- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. is sitting on an incredibly hot seat.

Facing federal and local allegations of misusing public funds, Mr. Thomas has to decide whether to step aside or step down - and he should do so in short order.

Notwithstanding the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raid on his home and the possibility of an imminent federal indictment, the Ward 5 Democrat should consider the intense pressure that a wait-and-see posture puts on his family and the effect it has on the very people who handed him a decisive victory in the September 2010 Democratic primary.

Voters re-elected Mr. Thomas as the guardian of Ward 5’s gate because so much is at stake. Chief among them are a ward vote on the council amid unprecedented economic-development opportunities and considerable educational issues, as well as the fact that Ward 5 could become the No. 1 dumping ground for liberals to carry out their social experimentation with medical marijuana and establish a red-light district in the nations capital.

Moreover, the recall vultures are circling.

My colleague Tom Howell Jr. reported Tuesday that citywide voter discontent could lead to three historically unheard-of recall efforts: one against Mayor Vincent C. Gray, another against council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and the third against Mr. Thomas.

All three are Democrats who were elected overwhelmingly in 2010.

In the primary, Mr. Thomas won 61.67 of the ward vote, and in the general election he garnered nearly 84 percent. However, only 10 percent - or 6,000 votes - can bury a sitting ward council member. And recall supporters said they are merely waiting for the clock to strike midnight Jan. 3 to officially launch a recall drive.

“I believe that were going to be successful,” Debbie Smith-Steiner, who is part of the recall effort, told Mr. Howell. “If the justice system is not going to do it, then the people system will do it.”

That people system includes either replacing Mr. Thomas now, before he steps down, or after a successful recall.

Fortunately and unfortunately for Ward 5 voters, former Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange is now an at-large member. And while he has on occasion taken a parochial view that favors the ward on some issues, he nonetheless is in election mode and has to appease voters across the city.

Surely Mr. Thomas - a native of Washington whose faithful mom, Romaine, served this city as an educator and whose late father, Harry Sr., served this nation in the military and later as a three-term Ward 5 council member - has peered into the crystal ball and seen what will best serve his moral self, his family, his ward and his city.

Surely, too, he sees the uncomfortable reality that with no ward vote on the council, his constituents and community businesses could easily fall prey to the whims of special interests.

If Mr. Thomas were to resign or be found guilty, Ward 5 voters would immediately face a daunting question: Who will replace him?

The short list of recognizable names making the rounds include Delano Hunter and Kenyon McDuffie, who both ran in last years primary.

The name of Mark Jones, the twice-elected Ward 5 school board member, is making the rounds, too.

Mr. Jones “will speak up for Ward 5 from a particular knowledge base,” Robert Brannum, head of the Ward 5 Democrats, told me this week. “If a vacancy does come, he is qualified and able, and has proven himself to be of value and has credibility in Ward 5. Residents and voters know who he is.”

Mr. Brannum, who also is chairman of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, added: “I am not going to prejudge Harry. Theres due process and the guiding principle of innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Whatever happens will happen.”

Mr. Thomas mounting legal problems and uncertain future havent deterred him from fulfilling his current responsibilities.

“He has not missed any legislative meetings or any important community meetings on critical issues in the ward while all of this is going on,” a Thomas spokesman said yesterday. “None of his constituent services has suffered, and his response to concerns and emails has not gone lacking.”

Its good to know Mr. Thomas remains a deliberative and engaged on-the-job elected official.

Now he is at the crossroads: stay in office and face the likelihood of arrest or possible recall, or step down.

As for Mr. Thomas, the proverbial die has been cast and time is of the essence.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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