State Rep. Dwight Evans' fall from grace Tuesday, as unexpected as it seemed, was hardly sudden.

After 20 years as the ranking Democrat on the influential Appropriations Committee, Evans had become a target of more than his share of opponents nursing long-held resentments. Those included foes who saw in Evans a growing sense of entitlement, a heavy-handed management style, and an unwillingness to fairly share political spoils.

Add to that his party's losses in the November election, Democrats say, and it is not surprising that party members voted to strip him of his leadership post in favor of Rep. Joseph Markosek of Allegheny County.

"You call a bad game," said State Rep. Michael H. O'Brien (D., Phila.), who voted against Evans, "you get benched."

While the rebellion was led by legislators from Western Pennsylvania, it apparently included a number of Philadelphians, evidence that whatever local fealty Evans once commanded had eroded.

Undermining that past support was a belief that Evans used his position to spend taxpayers' funds lavishly in his own district while shortchanging other legislators who sought money for their own projects.

"I can only speak for me," Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.), who voted against Evans, said Tuesday. "I myself didn't get stuff that I had worked hard for. I've been waiting for $1.5 million for a project for five budget cycles that he still refuses to let go."

It was not lost on Cruz and others that Evans had approved more than $17.5 million for his pet community development agency - Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. - in the last two years alone. That money included more than $1 million to fund the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, which this year drew anemic crowds. In addition, $850,000 has already been set aside for next year's festival.

The organization last year spent about $760,000 to bail out a struggling Mount Airy nightclub, North by Northwest, owned by Evans' backers. It has also used taxpayer funds to buy and finance Relish, a West Oak Lane restaurant.

Leading up to the vote, Evans' opponents circulated documents that laid out the extent of money spent in Evans' district and for his staff, according to State Rep. Brendon F. Boyle (D., Phila.).

Boyle, who declined to say how he voted, said he was uncertain how much that affected the vote, "but it clearly was a contributing factor."

Another factor, O'Brien said, was a sense of "inequity" when it came to money doled out to others in the legislature.

O'Brien and others said that while Evans served as Appropriations Committee chairman, funds flowed to projects of his allies. Those out of favor could be coldly denied money for trivial reasons.

"There was a feeling in the caucus of a growing cronyism," O'Brien said. "His favorites got; those who displeased him did not. It could all be over a disagreement on a single issue."

Rep. W. Curtis Thomas (D., Phila.) acknowledged that there were a number of wide-ranging complaints against Evans. None alone, he thought, was serious enough to have brought about his demise.

"I think when there is misery, it will link up with other misery, and that's what happened here," he said. "His opponents were able to organize around a number of concerns that were out there. It all came together in one tidal wave."

One organizer of that "misery" was Rep. Bill DeWeese, former majority whip and longtime partner with Evans in party leadership. Evans crossed DeWeese, of Greene County, when he threw his support to DeWeese's primary opponent this spring. DeWeese won regardless, and Evans earned himself a formidable adversary.

"Bill DeWeese was strongly vocal against Dwight," Boyle said.

Thomas said DeWeese ensured that party members from Western Pennsylvania would close ranks against Evans, meaning any weaknesses within the Philadelphia delegation could be fatal.

Kevin Boyle, a Democrat who defeated longtime Republican power-broker and former House Speaker John M. Perzel, said, "Sometimes people feel there was the need for a change - and that was certainly something I benefited from two weeks ago."

He would not disclose his vote in the secret balloting Tuesday. Cruz and O'Brien acknowledged opposing Evans. Others estimated that any where from four to nine members of the city's 24-member delegation were suspected to have been among the final 50 votes for Markosek.

Rep. Jewell Williams (D., Phila.) said that had just two area representatives changed their vote to support Evans, the Philadelphian would have won the election.

Williams said the first vote tally was 45-43 in favor of Markosek. Markosek's support ballooned to 50 after Evans' backers challenged the initial balloting and demanded a second vote.

"Everybody saw Dwight was going to lose and jumped off the bandwagon," said Williams, who added that members' "personal grudges" did Evans in.

"The people who voted against Dwight, they really voted against Philadelphia," said Williams. "And shame on them. Because this isn't just about their districts, it's about the city as a whole having a seat at the table."

Ultimately, the match that lit the fuse to Evans' undoing was a decision by the party leadership earlier in the month to cancel what remained of the House's voting schedule this month.

It was seen as a maneuver by Evans to block a Republican proposal for an independent fiscal office that could diminish the power of the Appropriations Committee.

It also, as a consequence, would have kept the Democratic rank-and-file from voting on a pension-reform bill supported by key constituent groups.

The party members rebelled and forced their leadership into a rare retreat and return to Harrisburg earlier this week. It also suggested a weakness long sought by Evans' opponents.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," O'Brien said.

Contact staff writer Christopher K. Hepp at 215-854-2208 or
Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields contributed to this article.