We’ve been listening in on the excessive and – literally – inside-the-Beltway chatter surrounding the FBI raid of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas’ (D) Northeast Washington, D.C. home since last Friday with keen interest.
Some interesting nuggets of information have been flying all over the place, with Thomas – obviously – yet to muster any sort of spirited public defense against the allegations. At question is whether he ingratiated himself with over $300,000 in public money to buy such personal items as that sleek, $65,000 pitch black Audi Q7 we wished we had and other items such as the Chevy Tahoe he apparently used the Audi as a trade to get and a $24,000 Victory Ness motorcycle.
Why he traded in the Q7 is a mystery since the move made the assumption of guilt somewhat obvious on some levels. It says: “I know this rather expensive Q7 I’m riding throughout one of the District’s most impoverished Wards is attracting a bit of attention, especially when I’m rolling through the infamous Trinidad neighborhood and considering I’m under investigation, so I might want to downgrade to a Tahoe with chrome rims.” No word yet on the meaning of the expensive muscle bike.
The city council is a bit miffed and embarrassed by the whole episode, with Council Chair Kwame Brown, himself under scrutiny, calling a closed door meeting with other Members to discuss next steps – or, to discuss what folks know or don’t know. Not good is that many of the Council’s Black members are under some sort of ethics cloud, in addition to the Mayor of D.C., which does not bode too well for a city still barely hanging on to its “Chocolate City” label. Black political power in D.C. is rapidly evaporating as the city gentrifies fast and the Black population ends up displaced into the surrounding suburbs.
Strangely enough, it was only a couple of days before the raid that Thomas decided to show up to a public hearing on D.C. ethics reform, perhaps knowing the raid was coming any day and thinking that, maybe, he could save a bit of face with federal prosecutors. Here’s local FOX affiliate WTTG blowing up his spot:
For a number of reasons, Thomas is not as politically insulated from further trouble as he could be. He may have control over the Ward political machine, which ensures no credible or qualified challengers creep up on him during Democratic primaries, but it’s not like he’s all that popular. While finding him accessible – particularly during his black Audi days – many residents complain Thomas is ineffective.
One resident in the Trinidad section had complained for years to District government and Thomas’ office about an infestation of rodents and vermin in the alley next to her house. And for years, she got little to no response, with District government being non-responsive and her Councilman constantly griping about his inability to press the responsible agencies. When a large urban raccoon invaded her back porch, the resident – fed up – took a photo of the animal and posted it on Thomas’ Facebook page. He responded by pointing out “how cute” the raccoon was.
Thomas, to his defense, took power in Ward 5 at a time when megalomaniac Mayor Adrian Fenty took over – and Thomas was never a fan. Fenty, in classic Fenty fashion, took it out on Thomas by making sure certain basic needs in the Ward were unmet or tied up. The Councilman would frequently complain to those listening that his “hands were tied” on forcing agency action. Problem is, residents don’t want to hear that. In Ward 5, they’re too busy making ends meet while, clearly, Thomas didn’t seem to have a problem with that making six figures in city salary and riding around on a $24,000 bike. Just saying … perception is everything.
On to the news about the raid …
What’s the city’s largest Black newspaper The Washington Informer saying about it? WI staff give the basics, with a follow-up (hopefully) on the way:
According to reports early on Dec. 2, agents from the Washington Field Office of the FBI were conducting a law enforcement operation at the home, located in an upscale section of Northeast.
The search began around 8 a.m. and was ongoing at midday, with no arrests having been made. Reports also state that as of Friday, there had been no search of Thomas’ office.
The Washington City Paper’s unforgiving Loose Lips column (frequently a funny and candid read) is all over it the story, putting all the business out there. He pulls few punches:
At the risk of overstating the obvious: Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. appears f****d.
So why take Thomas’ rides? LL checked in with former U.S. Attorney for the District Joe DiGenova for an idea. DiGenova says the feds may have seized Thomas’ vehicles not only because they are potential evidence of criminal wrongdoing (“You never know what you’re going to find when you have several days to search a car,” says DiGenova), but also to help Thomas realize he’s now in a world of hurt. In order to seize the Tahoe and the Victory, DiGenova says, federal agents would have had to convince a judge there’s enough probable cause that the rides are linked to a crime, or are the “fruits” of a crime. That means that agents would have already compiled a lengthy paper trail of bank records, car payments, and more.
“This is a signal to him and his attorney that they might want to come in and chat,” DiGenova says.
The Washington Examiner, that free conservative-front paper daily that near-homeless dudes pass out at the Metro station every morning, makes the predictable comparison between Marion Barry and Thomas. Will Thomas make a comeback? That’s inconceivable – by the time he’d come back from a jail term, would Ward 5 even be the same after the gentrification is complete? Would a new crop of Ward 5 residents want a convicted ex-politician representing them?
The Barry bust was different, of course, but there are lessons to be learned — two, in particular.
— No one demanded Marion Barry step down as mayor just because he had been arrested and charged with a crime. In America, one is innocent until proven guilty. Remember: Barry chose not to run for re-election.
— Barry won election to the council after he served his six months in the federal pen, then he was elected mayor for a fourth term, and he has never been out of office since.
Marion Barry has established a path for Thomas’ redemption and continued service on the city council, come what may in a court of law. Keep your head held high, never wallow in regret for doing wrong and keep your mother by your side.
Where did Thomas head after the feds carted off his ride? Over to his mom’s place. Romaine Thomas is more solid and better-known in this town than even Virginia Williams, mother of former Mayor Tony Williams. Romaine was a public school teacher and principal. As wife of Harry Thomas, Sr., who preceded his son on the Ward 5 city council seat, she’s been working crowds and serving hot meals to poll workers since the early 1970s.