Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. has indicated an interest in running for his old Ward 5 seat in 2022 but some residents are wary of him doing that.
Thomas, who joined the council from 2007, resigned on Jan. 5, 2012, when federal prosecutors filed charges against him for embezzlement and filing false tax returns for a nonprofit youth organization he oversaw. After pleading guilty and serving more than two years of a 38-month prison sentence, Thomas was released in 2015 and came back to the District.
In an interview with The Informer, Thomas said he has moved on with his life since incarceration and wants to jump-start his career in public service.
“When it comes to the Ward 5 council seat in 2022, I am keeping my options open on whether to become a candidate for the office,” he said. “I am already in politics now. I serve as the Ward 5 committeeman for the D.C. Democratic State Committee and have been elected as a delegate for Joe Biden for president at the Democratic National Convention. I like the present council member and he has been good to my family. If I decide to run in 2022, it won’t be personal it will be for the good of the residents of Ward 5.”
Requests to Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) for comment were not immediately answered.
Thomas said if reelected to the council, he will focus on economic development and job opportunities, just as he did when he served previously.
“I want to make sure Ward 5 residents can live and work in their communities,” he said. “There are a lot of newcomers to the ward who don’t understand its history and legacy and we need to keep people here who have been around for years. But I recognize there have been changes.
“When I was growing up, there were four high schools in Ward 5 and they were Phelps, McKinley Tech, Spingarn and Dunbar,” Thomas said. “Now, the only non-specialized high school that anyone can attend is Dunbar. I also remember a time when recreation centers would be the center of young people’s lives. The recreation center for me was like a second home and it offered me employment opportunities as a young man such as working as a lifeguard. I realize the city has changed but the city is missing that home, neighborhood focus it used to have. On the council I hope to bring some of that back.”
Thomas pondering a run for re-election, however has some Ward 5 residents unsettled. While Gordon-Andrew Lee Fletcher, chairman of the Ward 5 Democrats, would only say Thomas “has the right to run like everybody else” Frank Wilds, a longtime Democratic activist and Ward 5 resident, doesn’t think the former lawmaker should become a candidate.
“I like Harry and we talk and text but before he makes a move like that, he needs to think about his family,” Wilds said. “Why damage your family going through a process like that? I believe in second chances but he needs to move onto something else.”
Kathy Henderson, a former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner, was more blunt about Thomas’s possible candidacy.
“He was elected to represent us on the council but instead executed a scheme to steal from children,” she said. “We don’t need that in Ward 5. He seems to think the seat belongs to him but it is the people’s. We need to have someone on the council who will uplift our community, not steal from it. He needs to move on.”
Ken Fealing, who also served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the ward, spoke of his familiarity with Thomas and his father, Harry Thomas Sr., who represented the ward on the council from 1987-1999. Fealing said he, like Wilds, believes in second chances for people who have done wrong but Thomas shouldn’t get another chance to be a council member.
“I would be opposed to his running and if he were to run, I would not support him,” he said. “I think he violated the public trust and he did it taking money from children and that’s not right.”
Thomas acknowledges the animus among Ward 5 residents regarding his possible political aspirations, but argues he has changed.
“I ask people to look at my individual situation,” he said. “I have paid my debt to society. Look at what I did when I was on the council and my body of work in Ward 5. The criminal conviction was a blip on the screen.”