“Let’s wrap our arms around her and give her a real welcome,” Anita Bonds, the committee chairman, told dozens of party supporters Thursday night at the John A. Wilson Building.
The next morning, Romaine Thomas was in U.S. District Court to watch her son
plead guilty to embezzling city funds and falsifying his tax records. By day’s end on Friday, his council office was empty, his name stripped from signs in the Wilson Building.
The spectacle marked not only the end of what prosecutors said was a brazen run of criminality but also quite possibly the end of a local political dynasty, one forged by Romaine and her late husband, Harry L. Thomas Sr.
“They were a couple in politics. They had each other’s backs. Their antennas were everywhere, and they groomed their son,” said council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. , who served two terms as the Ward 5 representative after beating the elder Thomas by 359 votes in the Democratic primary in 1998. Last year, Orange won an at-large seat on the council.
Indeed, in Northeast Washington, the Thomases had been as close to a Kennedy clan as any family could come, and Thomas Jr., 51, was the scion who aspired to greater political heights than the seat he or his father had held for 16 of the past 24 years.
Now, the family’s place in local politics is clouded by a future that almost certainly includes prison for the man still known to many as “Little Harry” or “Tommy.”
In 2010, he had easily won reelection to a second term, with 62 percent of the vote. But like many parts of the District, Ward 5 is changing amid an influx of new residents, and many of them know little about the Thomas family legacy in their corner of the city. Perhaps in a nod to that changing landscape and to his own ambitions, Thomas had said he was considering a future campaign for an at-large seat, a run that would have been a step toward the broader base of supporters he would need were he ever to run for council chairman or mayor.
For now, his only campaign will be one for leniency from the federal judge who is to sentence him in May.
His supporters, still reeling from the resignation and guilty plea, find it hard to imagine Ward 5 without a Thomas in office.
Opinions varied about whether the family could ever return to power. “I don’t know,” said Bonds, whose name is in early chatter about potential Thomas successors. Bonds said she does not know if she will run.
Community activist Jeannette Mobley said when she thinks of the Thomases she thinks of “helping people.”
Could Thomas, who will be sentenced in May, run when he gets out of prison? “He wouldn’t be the first politician to have a comeback,” Mobley said.