In first year in local politics, student takes aim at longest-serving D.C. Council member

Jack Evans, Foggy Bottom’s representative on the D.C. Council, probably didn’t expect a 8,000-square-foot patch of pavement to land him under the microscope of the city’s ethics board.

After a summer of theatrics in the hallways of the Council’s headquarters – with neighborhood leaders accusing Evans of buttering up GW administrators with a $2.8 million land deal – the city began its probe just one day after a GW senior’s allegations were published in a local paper.

Jackson Carnes, 21, who was elected to Foggy Bottom’s top advocacy group last year and is now campaigning for Evans’ mayoral race rival Muriel Bowser, has for months blasted Evans for giving GW a city-owned alley at its “superdorm” construction site.

Now, Carnes is telling the city’s ethics board that Evans himself admitted that the “sweetheart deal” was in exchange for GW’s political backing.

Evans struck down the claim.

“What Jackson is alleging never happened. It’s honestly absurd,” Evans said in a phone interview Friday. “I’ve only spoken with him two times in my life. I’m telling you I didn’t say it. Maybe he misunderstood.”

Barbara Kahlow, the secretary and treasurer for the West End Citizens Association, was also present at the conversation with Carnes and Evans. She denies that Evans ever mentioned needing GW’s support.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jackson Carnes campaigns for his position on the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission outside the School Without Walls on Nov. 6, 2012. Carnes is criticizing Council member Jack Evans for making unethical deals in order to strengthen support for his mayoral candidacy.

The ethics board questioned two other Advisory Neighborhood Commission members, who were in a separate meeting with Evans to discuss the alley closing. One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he never heard Evans link his support for the alley closure to GW’s political support.

But Carnes, who is from Louisville, Ky., has helped push the spotlight the brightest on Evans, who is the longest-serving Council member and has a mostly clean record in a city government tarred with shadow campaigns and federal investigations. 

Evans did run into controversy in 2005 after he used a political action committee to pay for meals for constituents, and has faced criticism for spending more than $100,000 from his constituent-service fund for sports tickets.

There are a lot of things I like about Jack. But I don’t trust him and that’s why I can’t support him,” Carnes said in an interview Sunday.

In July, Evans introduced a bill to give away the alley between H and I streets. The ANC had pushed the city to attach conditions to the closing of the alley, including a stipulation that GW would contribute $700,000 toward a second entrance for the Foggy Bottom Metro station, and spent almost $600 on legal counsel for the effort.

Asher Corson, a GW alumnus and ANC commissioner, said Evans’ stance on the alley closing made him “personally think twice” about supporting the Council member’s mayoral campaign.

“It represents a disregard for protecting city assets,” Corson said. “It reflects poorly on his financial stewardship and his ability to do a good job moving forward.”

Commissioner and GW senior Patrick Kennedy said the ANC will not take sides in the mayoral race as one unit, and he has not yet decided on a candidate. Six Democrats have announced their bids so far, but incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray has not confirmed if he will seek reelection.

“I am disappointed but trying to withhold judgment,” Kennedy said about Evans, adding that the Council member has promised to work with the Foggy Bottom community to find funding for the second metro entrance. “I am honestly just waiting to see what he does with that.”

The Council voted 12-0 to close the alley without conditions. After it earned the support from Chairman Phil Mendelson, “there wasn’t much more to it,” Evans said.

The Council’s code of conduct bars legislators from using their public office for private gain, and the city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability investigates allegations of wrongdoing and can punish Council members for violations. Media reports or anonymous tips can initiate an investigation, according to the D.C. ethics manual.

Carnes, who ran unopposed for his spot on the eight-member ANC last year, is no stranger to standing alone on city issues. He called for an investigation last spring into Richard Trogisch, the principal of the School Without Walls, after Carnes and parents claimed Trogisch was planning to hire his wife as vice principal.

“The University clearly understands its obligation under federal tax law not to participate in political campaigns,” said University spokeswoman Candace Smith. “GW strictly complies with this law and does not endorse political candidates or make contributions to political candidates.”

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