Ethics probes likely won’t derail Evans’ bid for mayor, experts say

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Corey Zagone

Jack Evans, who represents Foggy Bottom on the D.C. Council, has come under investigation by the city's ethics board twice in his months-long bid for mayor.

Foggy Bottom representative Jack Evans has already faced scrutiny from the city twice in his three-month-long bid for mayor, but longtime followers of city politics predict it will have little impact on his chances next spring.

Evans, the longest-serving D.C. Council member, was under investigation by the D.C. ethics board last week after a GW student alleged he struck a “sweetheart” land deal with GW for political support.

Another allegation surfaced Wednesday, with the city investigating Evans for supposedly violating campaign finance rules by collecting multiple donations from the same donor.

The inquiries could be troublesome for Evans, who has campaigned on a clean record and history of ethical decision-making. He also helped pass Council legislation to increase transparency in bookkeeping.

But Evans has denied both allegations, and experts agree that neither probe will have a lasting effect on his campaign.

Matthew Green, a political science professor at Catholic University, said that while Foggy Bottom is a “core constituency” for Evans that may be turned off by the land deal, the neighborhood represents only a small proportion of voters.

“Corruption can be harmful for elected officials and candidates, or even alleged corruption, but it’s hardly a guarantee that someone will lose an election,” Green said.

Inquiries must be dramatic, he said, but also simple enough to grasp for the average voter, who may not closely follow city politics.

“We’ve had politicians alleged to have done very complicated financial transactions that are difficult to understand, and those issues sometimes confuse voters,” Green said. “People understand when politicians are caught in a car with someone who is not their spouse. Those things are important in terms of how an alleged act will affect the election.”

Evans, who is running against five other candidates – including fellow Council members Tommy Wells and Muriel Bowser – is a favorite among the downtown business community. He has campaigned on a record of supporting major development projects like the Verizon Center and Nationals Park.

Georgetown resident Carol Baume, who gave $100 to Evans’ campaign in February, said the Council member’s track record matters more to her than the investigations.

“I have lived in D.C. almost 20 years now, and I have been to lots of meetings and events where he has spoken, and I have followed how he conducts business, and he seems like a very reasoned and straightforward person,” Baume said, adding that she plans to donate to Evans’ campaign again.

Still, Howard University political science professor Lorenzo Morris said even preliminary investigations are important to voters because the probes could raise doubt about Evans’ clean reputation.

“Generally, voters respond seriously to violations of financially inappropriate behavior or a hint about personal corruption,” Morris said. “For Jack Evans, the critical factor is that he has to present, more than anything else, a clean image.”

Incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign has been the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, but he has denied he had any knowledge about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in undocumented donations under scrutiny.

It’s another wound in a city that was scarred by political corruption when Council member Marion Barry, who served four terms as mayor, had a tenure marred by embezzlement, a $110-million budget deficit and an arrest for cocaine in 1990.

With the city waiting to see if Gray will seek re-election, Green said much could change before the Democratic primary in April.

“That’s almost an eternity in political time. For even that reason alone, it’s way, way too soon to say if these allegations will have an affect,” Green said.

This post was updated Sept. 9 at 11:20 a.m. to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the number of terms Marion Barry served as mayor.

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