For the first time since 1986, a Harry Thomas is not running to be the D.C. Council member from Ward 5.
Thomas, 51, is set to be sentenced Thursday for two federal felonies. Two days later, early voting will start in the May 15 special election to replace him, and candidates are hoping the surge of public interest will draw attention to what is widely expected to be a low turnout race.
Shelly Gardner, 55, a lawyer and first-time candidate, is among the 11 candidates trying to position themselves as the best option for a ward looking to move past the now-tarnished political dynasty established by Thomas’s father.
“I’m going to take advantage of it,” Gardner said. “It’s not personal to him. It’s to distinguish me from the rest of the guys.”
Candidates are hearing often of Thomas’s woes as they knock on residents’ doors and stump for votes at community meetings.
“People are still talking about how hurt they are that Tommy let them down,” said Ron L. Magnus, a Brookland lawyer who is making his second run for the Ward 5 seat. “We’re months after [Thomas’s plea] but people are still depressed, they’re still upset, they’re still frustrated.”
Magnus recalls one resident who recently asked him three questions: Do you plan to steal? Have you ever stolen before? Do you own an SUV? (Thomas used a portion of the more than $350,000 he stole to buy an Audi Q8.)
“I told her absolutely no to each and every question,” Magnus said.
Thomas’s sentencing overlays a race that otherwise displays the hallmarks of a typical Ward 5 contest. There are allegations of dirty tricks and bare-knuckle politics. There’s a focus on issues that range from the universal (jobs, education) to the parochial (medical marijuana, development). And there’s a crowded field, with nine Democrats, a Republican and an independent remaining in the winner-takes-all contest.
To distinguish themselves, some candidates are highlighting their fundraising, their performance in previous elections and their grass-roots support.
By those measures, Democrats Delano Hunter, Kenyan McDuffie and Frank Wilds have a leg up on the competition. Hunter and McDuffie, respectively, finished second and third to Thomas in the 2010 primary race; Wilds came in second to Thomas in a 2006 run.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, filed last month, McDuffie led the field with about $47,000 raised. Hunter and Wilds have raised about $35,000, although Wilds’s haul includes a $10,000 personal loan. Drew Hubbard, a former D.C. Council aide and first-time candidate, has raised about $26,000.
All have used their funds to plaster the ward with signs, festooning yards and street medians and telephone poles.
The sole Republican in the race, Timothy Day, has raised about $6,000, but he has enjoyed notoriety from his role in the Thomas investigation and prosecution.