Brandon Evans might be one of the least known, most influential behind-the-scenes players in Philadelphia politics.
Evans ran both of Larry Krasner’s campaigns for district attorney and Mayor Jim Kenney’s reelection, three big wins. He’s political director for Real Justice PAC, a national criminal justice reform group. And he’s a former Pennsylvania state director for the left-wing Working Families Party.
Originally from Miami, Evans got interested in politics after working with Stacey Abrams in Georgia. He’s been in Pennsylvania for eight years since a job with the labor union Unite Here brought him to the city. Now he’s running political operations for two of the city’s top elected officials — who also don’t happen to like each other very much.
Evans, 37, who lives in Old City with his girlfriend, talked with The Inquirer about politics, his hobby collecting historical artifacts, and what’s next for him. The conversation was edited lightly for clarity and brevity.
Did you grow up in a political family?
“My granddad watched the news every night, I’d sit with him, he was a [World War II] veteran. And I was born in ’83, so Miami was a very interesting place, politically. I was born a couple years after the McDuffie riots, which really were an explosive time in Miami.
“Even prior to that, seeing the effects of integration, the destruction of Overtown, the cultural and business hub of Miami, having I-95 built and running through there. Black people were displaced as minority majority in Miami. You have a Cuban population that is far more conservative. It makes for some very interesting politics, to say the least.”
Tell me about working with Stacey Abrams
“I went to school in Atlanta for a while, dropped out, started working on campaigns, and met ... her on a mayoral race she was managing, and it changed everything, opened everything up. She was my age now. I had never seen nobody that dynamic, that brilliant. You know the first time you meet someone in life who literally could do anything? The sharpest strategic mind. ... She’s literally like my older sister.”
Did you feel like you were headed into a tough primary running Krasner’s campaign last month?
“I think the pugilistic nature of campaigns — it can be this heightened thing of progressives vs. the [police union], and what that can lead to, unfortunately, it leads to the erasure of Black people affected by the criminal justice system. Black voters are sophisticated and these social and racial and economic things have informed things like violence in their community. So it’s not just the ascension of a reform DA. The voters understood that. I think I knew they would.”
You work so closely with Krasner and Kenney, two men who don’t particularly like each other. What’s that like?
”For me it’s fine. I believe they both want what’s best for Philadelphia and that’s what makes it easy. They’re more similar than they realize. But no two people, especially politicians, are always going to agree.
“I definitely think there have been some moments where I’ve had to be the messenger, but it’s all good.”
What’s something people don’t know about Kenney or Krasner that you wish they did?
“Yeah, Kenney’s a joker, he’ll get on you. I think they’re both similar that way.”
And you think they’re similar in other ways?
“Politicians are like athletes, they all have different strengths. Kenney’s like a left tackle. Larry’s like a defensive end.”
“Kenney is an old political pro, like a left tackle in the league, a prized cornerstone piece. A technician, very few mistakes, perennial pro bowler. Krasner is newer to politics, rare pass rusher, with a great first step, can stand up or play with his hand in the dirt, high motor. He’ll get to the ball. Different guys, personalities. Franchise players, you’ll win a lot with both.”
What’s a piece of advice you are repeatedly giving the people you work with?
“Even on bad days that they have the ability to do hard things. That’s why the voters put them there, and even in moments that are controversial, where you may not look the best that day, your job is to do hard things.”
You’re also political director of a group that supports Krasner, and the city’s Board of Ethics fined the Krasner campaign in 2019 for receiving more support from Real Justice PAC than is allowed. How do you handle your dual roles and make sure you’re following the rules?
“We keep everything in its right order. We’re happy to always communicate and be transparent with what we do with the board because we do it aboveboard and we follow the guidance of the Board of Ethics.”
What got you interested in criminal justice reform?
“Being a young black man in America. It singularly may be the essential or the largest political question in the African American community. I don’t know of a single Black family — class or education position aside — who has not been touched or affected by this system.”
Is Krasner going to treat Republican challenger Chuck Peruto how Kenney treated his 2019 GOP opponent, basically ignoring that there’s a general election?
“All who are observers of Philadelphia politics are clear the heavier lift is behind us.”
What do you do when you’re not running a campaign? I hear you’re a big history buff?
“Always love to check out restaurants, steakhouses, good books. I’m the biggest Walter Mosley fan. I do have some first editions of the greats ... [Richard] Wright, [James] Baldwin. ... I got an old handbill of one of Paul Robeson’s first plays, he did Othello. I like little vintage items.”
Best political advice you’ve ever received?
“Always tell yourself there are no tomorrows, so do it now. Operate with a sense of urgency.”
Politician you’d love to work for?
“Outside of Stacey, I wish I could have met Adam Clayton Powell. What a force of a man to have been in that period with him. Truly, some people are called for the moment. One of the beautiful things about him is that he is unapologetic in who he is and who he serves.”
What do you think of Black representation today in Philly politics?
“We could always use more Black candidates, more Black women. But there are also plenty of young and talented and capable people who should be in my position who are Black. Look at who’s running campaigns. There’s an industry around the running of campaigns and the execution of mail and TV, probably a billion-dollar industry and, unfortunately, still today sitting here at 37 years old and in 2021, still too few.”