- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2011

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown declined Monday to join in calls for council member Harry Thomas Jr. to resign amid corruption investigations, instead urging Mr. Thomas to do “what is best for his family and his constituents.”

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said he was “disappointed with the entire situation” and his “highest priority is to ensure that the people of this city have faith in their government.”

Requests for Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, to step down began within hours of his agreeing Friday to repay $300,000 to the District for allegedly funding lavish trips and a luxury vehicle with public funds earmarked for youth baseball.

Council members David A. Catania, at-large independent, and Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, each issued statements that explicitly called on Mr. Thomas to resign.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, said only that his predicament reflects poorly on the council.

“Now it’s up to Mr. Thomas to decide what he’s going to do,” Mrs. Cheh said Monday, noting that council members cannot force a colleague to leave the council. “All we have is our individual views about what someone ought to do.”

Mr. Brown, whose 2008 re-election committee is the focus of an ethics probe, added Monday that nobody on the 13-member council is “above reproach.”

Mr. Thomas was elected overwhelmingly to his second term in November but finds his political career in peril.

Last month, Mr. Brown took away Mr. Thomas’ oversight of economic development matters. And though he shows no signs of resigning, Mr. Thomas likely would return in September for the next legislative session with even less clout, considering his colleagues’ public statements.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan sued Mr. Thomas in June, alleging he bilked the funds - earmarked during 2007 budget talks - by funneling them through various organizations.

Though the $300,000 settlement resolved the civil action, Mr. Thomas still faces a criminal probe by the U.S. attorney for the District.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat whose campaign team also is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has yet to comment on what Mr. Thomas should do. Instead, he applauded Mr. Thomas’ speedy resolution to the civil suit, in which he also promises to donate sports equipment to city youths.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to say whether the settlement could affect its review of allegations against Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas recently added Abbe D. Lowell - a renowned lawyer whose past clients include lobbyist Jack Abramoff and entertainment mogul Sean Combs - to his defense team, according to the settlement papers.

Mrs. Cheh, a law professor, said Mr. Thomas’ settling the civil suit “doesn’t explain anything,” though “paying back $300,000 is pretty significant.”

Mr. Thomas is not up for re-election until 2014. He won re-election in 2010 with roughly 62 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary and 84 percent in November’s general election.

If he resigns, a special election would take place within months. Under D.C. law, ward voters would go to the polls on the first Tuesday after more than 114 days from when the vacancy occurs.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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