The Capitol Hill script goes something like this: The witness at a congressional hearing is so honored and thrilled to be there that he turns into a timid, tepid, tenuous nobody, profusely thanking the big shots for being invited. To make matters worse, the invited guest repeats the nauseating mantra stressing how grateful he or she is to have the “opportunity to testify.”
On April 13, however, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans boldly and defiantly refused to play the designated role of slobbering supplicant. He was there to discuss the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — in other words, Metro. As chairman of the much beleaguered transit system, Evans had plenty to say.
I’m sure the Republicans on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform thought he would be easy prey for their barbs and insults. Evans wasn’t going to take it. It was his proudest hour. And for that brief shining moment, D.C. had a strong spokesman for its interests. (I can just imagine District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson meekly, and inaudibly, making our case.)
Evans made all the right and relevant points, including the fact that 50 percent of all riders are federal workers. He was candid about the “years of neglected maintenance.” He pleaded for a dedicated funding source (every other major urban transit system has one). And — the kicker — he demanded an annual federal payment of $300 million for operating expenses.
Beyond the specifics, Evan was inspirational. “We are in this together,” he said. “We need your help.” He continued, raising his voice: “This is your system. Step up. Do not leave here and do nothing.” When John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the subcommittee on government operations, tried to silence him, Evans shouted out, “Give me a break.” It was downright exhilarating.
Evans was the forceful advocate for the cause. He wouldn’t play the role of lethargic puppy before the congressional masters. For once, D.C. argued its case with great vigor and vehemence, not with stifled deference and odious obedience.
Everybody in the room that afternoon saw a different D.C. Evans changed the tone. No longer were we the weak, powerless, lame jurisdiction that cowered before those on the elevated chair. Maybe, just maybe, other elected leaders from D.C. will follow Evans’s lead and start speaking out and speaking up.
Political analyst Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a contributor to TheHill.com. Reach him at