A link-heavy look back at District Dig in 2018

Words and Photograph by Jeffrey Anderson ◊ Photo Design by Dave Forbes

TWO THOUSAND EIGHTEEN was rich with local news, politics and culture for District Dig to mine.

The trial of the Disrupt J20 protesters in D.C. began with a bang but went down with a whimper, as the U.S. Attorney dismissed criminal cases against dozens of protestors who had been “kettled” after aiding and abetting a wave of vandalism during the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The Dig spent considerable time walking the route protesters took when they shattered storefront windows, terrorized employees and trashed private property (including Larry King’s limo), and talking with leading J20 activists, some of whom put their careers on the line in pursuit of their cause.

Far more significant was the 40 percent spike in homicides in D.C. from 2017 to 2018, even as the D.C. Council continued to pass more stringent gun laws. Encouragingly, the U.S. Attorney brought a gun trafficking case against a pair of cousins who were bringing dozens of high caliber weapons from Georgia to D.C., where they were used within hours of hitting the street.

District Dig was alone in reporting on the casehow many such enterprises are bringing guns to D.C.?–and has singularly highlighted a fundamental aspect of the violence that plagues the city:

The relative ease with which young teens can get their hands on a gun.

Politicians and law enforcement officials should be ready in 2019 to explain why they are not pushing for more trafficking cases to disrupt the flow of guns through the Iron Pipeline, aka I-95.  

It also was an election year, and so we applied a personal touch to a pair of key D.C. Council races.

Campaigning for Council Chairman, Ed Lazere ran as a true progressive, committed to minimum wage and family leave initiatives and public spending to address shortages of affordable housing and desirable neighborhood schools.

Lazere’s longshot campaign was an affront to incumbent Phil Mendelson, the former eminence grise of  progressivism-turned-pragmatist. It wasn’t very close. Make of that what you will.  

Another stark contrast in the race for At-Large Council was preceded by a bizarre turn of events. In fact, before that campaign came into clear focus, The Dig led the pack with one of the year’s more eventful scoops.

Traci Hughes, former director of the Office of Open Government was waging a longshot bid to unseat At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, a former journalist and liberal policy advocate once mentored by Ed Lazere.

Largely ignored by local press, Hughes showed as a good-government candidate who emphasized efficiency and responsiveness over political opportunism or ideology.   

On the eve of the deadline for qualifying for the ballot, however, she discovered thousands of petition signatures provided by consultant Khalil Thompson had been forged. Hughes dropped out of the race, leaving Silverman to compete primarily with S. Kathryn Allen, an insurance company owner recruited by former Mayor Anthony Williams to beat back a liberal pro-labor agenda.

Visited at her home, a crestfallen Hughes displayed page after page of blatantly fraudulent signatures, prompting an immediate visit to the Board of Elections to find Allen’s petition signatures forged as well. (Allen apparently hired Thompson or an associate of his to collect her signatures as well. Thompson later  resigned from his city job as a result of the scandal.)

Within the hour, the Silverman campaign had someone down at BOE to collect copies of the ballot petitions. A formal challenge was on.

The Board disqualified Allen, leaving Silverman virtually uncontested, but for small business owner and veteran community outreach provider Dionne Reeder, who was running short on funds and long on media indifference. (I profiled Reeder for City Paper in 2017, but was as surprised as anyone by what transpired as Election Day drew close.)

Suddenly, Mayor Muriel Bowser was endorsing Reeder and mobilizing her fundraising machine. With a flood of cash and Bowser’s public snub of an incumbent, the election devolved into racial taunts and a rancorous clash centered on Initiative 77, the tipped minimum wage initiative backed by Silverman but opposed by the Mayor.

The media frenzy at times seemed like a race to the bottom. Meanwhile, The Dig profiled Silverman and Reeder separately, with the philosophy that voters might like to know more about the candidates as people and not just as politicians.

It was an opportunity to learn more about what made the candidates tick. Particularly Silverman, who offered a somewhat confessional life story that contrasts with her hyper-confident, sometimes grating style.

The Dig also posted an exclusive on the McMillan Sand Filtration Facility project, and another on disclosure of attorney-client privileged communications to D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s former law partner by a member of the legal team Racine’s office is overseeing in a digital sign case. And we visited with Vince Corvelli, a hatter who is preserving men’s and women’s style and who has seen it all in D.C. in his 80-plus years.

But the highlight of our coverage dealt with the ethical lapses of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans.

Politics watchers will recall Evans promoted legislation in 2016 that would clear regulatory hurdles for a digital sign firm founded by serial scam artist Don MacCord, who has been indicted in California for obstruction of justice and fraud related to commercial properties in D.C. where he wanted to install his LED signs.

In February, District Dig broke a story about an internship MacCord offered Evans’ son in the summer of 2016, months before Evans pushed for the legislation MacCord was seeking. (Evans pocketed the bill for lack of votes and says his son never took the internship.)

An entire series of stories on Evans and his ethical entanglements includes an exclusive on the mysterious consulting firm he formed in 2016 at his Georgetown home with the help of lawyer-lobbyist-developer and longtime pal Bill Jarvis.

That scoop prompted the Washington Post to follow up with an interview of Evans, who disclosed that MacCord also delivered two $25,000 checks to the firm in 2016–checks he says he returned to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest. (“I like to be very clean,” Evans told the Post.)  

After our report in November that Jarvis has lobbied Evans on gaming and other issues, and that the firm, NSE Consulting LLC, has reported $200,000 in revenue, the Post reported that NSE also received stock from MacCord in 2016 valued at $200,000. (Evans says he returned the stock certificate and he disputes the value. He has yet to disclose his sources of revenue.)

TWO THOUSAND NINETEEN figures to be just as interesting. District Dig looks forward to reporting on local affairs with content from new contributors while excavating new layers of the civic landscape. 

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Categories: Editorial News Politics