When controversy erupted in April over the award of a contract to manage Martin Luther King High School, State Rep. Dwight Evans was right in the middle of it.
And I thought of the Dwight Evans I’ve known for nearly 30 years: the legislative leader; policy wonk; candidate for mayor, lieutenant governor, and governor; and without question, deal-maker and power broker.
In the Martin Luther King episode, first reported by our own Bill Hangley, Evans’ friend and School Reform Commission chair Robert Archie appeared to have applied improper pressure to get a firm chosen by King parents to back out, making way for the non-profit Evans liked.
When the city’s chief integrity officer Joan Markman’s report on the affair was released, it was hard on both Archie and Evans.
Evans is a guy who’s been a major player in Harrisburg and Philadelphia since the early 1980’s, and you don’t wield the kind of influence he’s had without a keen understanding of political power.
Evans has always been a prodigious fundraiser, and some of his contributors and fundraisers have benefited from public contracts. He’s made alliances and struck deals. That’s how you get to be Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a post Evans held for many years.
At times Evans has secured state money for projects that drew criticism, some that seemed to benefit his friends and allies.
I always saw this side of Evans. But there was another side – the guy who would call me up on a Friday afternoon to talk about a policy issue for 45 minutes – not to pitch a story or try to kill one, just to talk.
I believe Evans is really interested in the business of government, and has spent a long time thinking about what works and what doesn’t.
And, like a lot of legislative leaders who’ve moved seamlessly through the worlds of deal-making and policy debates for years, they’re often genuinely surprised when they’re called out for exerting pressure on someone to get something they want.
Because after a while, the business of raising money, building alliances, accruing power, and pursuing policy objectives all blend together.
And it doesn’t even occur to you to stay out of a meeting because somebody thinks it wouldn’t look right, or to hold back when you can influence an outcome.
Evans now wields far less clout than he used to, and the King report had to sting.
I wonder how it will affect his attitude, and his game.