Freshman Rep. Dwight Evans, 62, a Pennsylvania Democrat, talks about starting a charter school, representing universities, and how he likes to eat a Philly cheesesteak.
Q: What has surprised you so far in your time in Congress?
A: I don’t think much has really surprised me because I was in the legislature for 36 years. The vocabulary of the way they do things on the floor is somewhat different than what you would do in the Pennsylvania legislature. They tend to be, here, obviously, very much structured. For example, in committee meetings, you have these five-minute rules where you get five minutes. On the [Pennsylvania] House floor, you talked as long as you wanted to. But it’s very limited [here] like this one-minute rule, that five-minute rule.
Q: You co-founded a charter school in Philadelphia. What did you learn from that?
A: It’s called the West Oak Lane Charter School. It will be 20 years old in September. It has 1,108 kids in it, and it has a waiting list. It goes from kindergarten to eighth grade. That was my way of looking at how we deliver public education. That was my way of looking at a way of trying to ensure that the people in this community have a quality school available to them. And the school is one of the oldest charter schools in the city.
Q: You represent various universities — how does that affect your time here?
A: I enjoy that tremendously because all of those different universities —Temple, La Salle, Villanova, Penn, Community College [of Philadelphia], St. Joe’s (St. Joseph’s University) — they’re the economic and education engines of southeast [Pennsylvania]. When you really think about the brainpower and the resourcefulness that’s all based in this district, there’s an awful lot of connection and it brings a lot of people to the community. It brings a lot of people into the city in terms of advancement, people who wind up staying in the city.
Q: Why did you want to be a politician?
A: To make a difference. There was a quote by a gentleman by the name of Whitney Young, who was the head of the National Urban League … “One person can make a difference.” For me, that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do in a number of ways. One of the things is addressing the issues of food insecurity. I came up with the idea about getting supermarkets in urban and rural areas and that’s a part of the national policy now, thanks to Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge, who got it in the farm bill. That’s an idea we started in Pennsylvania back in ’04 and now it’s a part of the national debate.
Q: How do you take your Philly cheesesteak?
A: I got vegetables on my cheesesteak, fried onions on my cheesesteak. I don’t like [Cheez] Whiz. That’s not eating a real cheesesteak, that’s not a cheesesteak. And the other thing is, it’s important what roll you have. The roll is very essential, seriously. You have it with the fried onions, lettuce, tomato, a little ketchup, mustard. The tourist places, I don’t love — no Pat’s and Geno’s. [My favorite is] a place called Dalessandro’s Steaks, they’re in Roxborough. It’s in the district.
Last book you read: “Build, Brother, Build” by Rev. Leon Sullivan. It’s an old book but I use it as a frame of reference.
Last movie you saw: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Favorite song of all time: “My Funny Valentine.”
Closest to in Congress: Reps. Anthony G. Brown, D-Md., Al Lawson, D-Fla., Val B. Demings, D-Fla., Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio.