Harry Thomas Resigns: A Somber, Dubious Distinction for D.C. Council
All last year, it seemed, different parts of the District of Columbia government were hanging under a cloud of suspicion, as Mayor Vincent Gray, Chairman Kwame Brown and Ward Five council member Harry Thomas, Jr., await the outcome of federal investigations.
The city, in short, was waiting for one of the three shoes to drop.
This week, one of them did, and it fell on Thomas, who resigned Thursday night after rumors and reports had swirled all week on local television news, websites and newspapers that he had reached an agreement or deal with the U.S. District Attorney’s Office that he would resign and that he would probably be facing jail time.
On Friday, Jan. 6, Thomas stood up in U.S. District Judge and pleaded guilty to two federal felonies, admitting that he had embezzled $350,00 in government money meant to go to a youth athletic program and that he had falsified federal income tax reports.
According to a report in the Washington Post, he answered U.S. Judge John D. Bates with “Guilty as charged, your honor.”
The resignation was historic. Thomas, who occupied the Ward 5 seat once held by his father as well as current at-large council member Vincent Orange, became the first sitting member of the D.C. Council since the beginning of home rule to resign his office under a cloud. That’s a dubious distinction for a once promising political career.
Suspicions about the fraud, theft or embezzlings have been long-standing, first raised by a Republican opponent after his 2010 re-election campaign, although vigorously denied by Thomas. The money was apparently funneled through a non-profit called Team Thomas, created by Thomas as a source of funds for youth athletics, funds which Thomas allegedly used for luxury cars and vacations among other things.
Recently, indicating the seriousness of the federal investigation, teams of FBI and IRS agents launched a raid on the Thomas residence, seizing a number of items and an SUV. Thomas had also agreed to pay back the some $300,000, although he did not admit he had done anything wrong.
Things came to a head this week with reports from television reporters citing individuals close to Thomas that he would be resigning.
The result leaves Ward 5 without a council representative at least until May, when a special election could be held. In addition, there are also early races for the Democratic and Republican nominations for several council seats.
Several council members had already called for Thomas’s resignation, as did Mayor Vincent Gray recently. Chairman Brown was not among them.
“I think it’s time to move on and heal and and work as hard as we can to gain the trust of Washingtonians,” Brown said in a television interview. He also indicated he felt “confident” about the outcome of the investigation into his 2008 campaign practices.
Thomas’s resignation comes amid newly created ethics reform legislation which the council is now attempting to give a final approval.
There is no small irony that the ethics package, praised by many, but criticized by others for not going far enough, is on its way to becoming a fact of life in the District, with key members of the government still under investigation.