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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Ward 2 D.C. Council race marked by controversy, close competition

Hatchet File Photo
A Metro board ethics investigation found that chairman Jack Evans violated ethics codes relating to conflicts of interest.

After Ward 2 voters spent almost two years watching the fallout of investigations into former D.C. Council member Jack Evans, a dramatic resignation and a controversial short-term incumbent have set the stage for the general election.

Evans represented Ward 2, which includes Foggy Bottom, since 1991 as the longest-serving Council member in the District’s history, but his tenure started to crumble when it was reported in June 2018 that officials were investigating whether he violated the Council’s code of conduct. Evans eventually became the subject of four ethics investigations, which found he attempted to use his government position to garner business deals.

He resigned in January following a unanimous call from the body for his expulsion.

Sidney Lee | Graphics Editor

Evans’ resignation left Ward 2 voters without formal representation for months, and now three candidates – all of whom entered the race after the primary election – are challenging short-term incumbent Brooke Pinto following allegations that she violated campaign finance laws.

Before casting your vote in the Nov. 3 election, take a look back at the past few years of Ward 2 politics:

Evans entrenched in investigations
Evans’ tenure on the Council began to unravel when the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability opened an inquiry into Evans in January 2018. Civil investigators were determining whether Evans made “false statements” about his outside employment with a law firm on a disclosure statement and received stock in exchange for pushing legislation on behalf of a company that was a client for the law firm.

The board’s investigation was suspended when federal authorities took over the probe later that year.

The board later fined Evans $20,000 after finding “substantial evidence” that he had violated the Council’s code after directing his chief of staff to use his Council seat and position as Metro board chair to entice clients for his consulting business.

In March 2019, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s ethics committee began investigating Evans. A law firm conducting the inquiry found “evidence of multiple violations,” including that he used his position for personal gain, but the ethics committee only agreed on one – that Evans failed to avoid conflicts of interest.

Evans announced a month before the ethics committee released its findings that he would not seek reelection as chair of the Metro board. The Washington Post reported that Evans said his decision was unrelated to the Metro probe.

Council members unanimously voted in December 2019 to recommend expelling Evans one month after a report from law firm O’Melveny & Myers revealed he had violated the Council’s code almost a dozen times since 2014. Council members invited Evans to testify before the Council following their recommendation, but he resigned in January, days before the body was scheduled to hold an expulsion vote.

Candidates join primary race, special election
Prior to Evans’ resignation, five candidates launched bids for his seat in the June Democratic primary election, pledging to regain trust in local government.

Days after his resignation, Evans filed to run in the June 2 primary and the June 16 special election, which would select a candidate to fill the empty Ward 2 seat, but he later suspended his bid for the special election. Republican Katherine Venice also announced her campaign for the seat at the time.

Brooke Pinto, a former assistant attorney general for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, entered the primary race in February, facing off against seven Democratic opponents, including Evans and Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Patrick Kennedy.

After Pinto narrowly secured the Democratic nomination for the race, her Democratic competitors, who were also running in the special election, said they would not actively campaign. Two of the candidates for the primary – Evans and political newcomer Daniel Hernandez – did not run in the special election, and Venice withdrew from the race on June 4.

Pinto won the special election on June 17, becoming the first woman to hold the ward seat and the city’s youngest-ever Council member at 28 years old.

Opponents launch bids to unseat Pinto
Following the primary race, two independent challengers and the city’s Green Party nominee entered the race in hopes of derailing Pinto’s shot at a full term.

Independents Randy Downs and Martín Miguel Fernandez and Green Party nominee Peter Bolton stepped into the race amid an investigation into whether Pinto violated campaign finance laws during the primary. Pinto was accused of not reporting a $975,000 property as her headquarters in campaign finance reports, an allegation the Office of Campaign Finance later dismissed.

Downs, a Ward 2 ANC commissioner, and Fernandez, a biomedical anthropologist, pledged to focus on the District’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting students learning online. Bolton, a journalist from the United Kingdom, entered the race to offer voters a progressive alternative to the other candidates and said he would advocate for D.C. statehood and public ownership of city utilities.

Venice, the Republican candidate, withdrew from the general election race in September.

Candidates race to secure donations, endorsements
The Post reported that no non-Democrat has ever won a ward seat on the Council, but early indicators have shown Downs’ campaign might have the momentum to become the first.

Downs has separated himself from the late-entry candidates, raising more than $27,000, and is projected to outraise Pinto by his participation in the D.C. Fair Elections Program, according to a DC Geekery analysis, which was last updated Thursday.

Downs is projected to raise a total of more than $175,000, about $3,000 more than Pinto, the analysis states. The analysis predicts Fernandez and Bolton will raise $87,006 and $2,841, respectively.

Downs has secured endorsements from Kennedy, the former Democratic candidate who ran for the Ward 2 seat; James Harnett, a senior and the chair of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission; and various local leaders.

Pinto has nabbed support from The Post’s editorial board, Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson and Karl Raccine, the attorney general for D.C. and her former boss.

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