They asked Thomas about efforts to redevelop an old school site, pressed him on why some special education students are bused out of town and noted that they prefer recreation centers to bike lanes and dog parks in Ward 5.
D.C. Ward 5 split over allegations against council’s Thomas
In an indication of the bond between them and Thomas, the recent conversation was blunt but jovial — residents even joked with Thomas about whether neighborhood crime problems could be resolved if more parents paddled their children.
“If the law allowed for butts to be whipped, people would not be walking around with guns,” one mother said.
Noticeably missing from the meeting was any sense that residents were preparing to discipline Thomas over allegations now under federal investigation that he diverted more than $300,000 from youth programs to pay for a luxury sport-utility vehicle and personal travel.
When the meeting broke up, many residents said they were standing by the two-term council member, a Democrat.
“All we see in him is good stuff,” said Mohammed Mobaidin, 52, a longtime community business leader. “Nobody believes he did it. I don’t believe it. We’ve discussed it a couple of times, and the majority of people in this neighborhood said, ‘There is no way he did it.’ ”
Across Ward 5, which includes some of the city’s most politically active neighborhoods, the allegations have split the community into two camps: those who fear they are being represented by an alleged swindler of public funds, and those who believe Thomas is the target of the media or a politicized investigation.
With Thomas potentially facing a recall election or criminal indictment, his constituents and council colleagues say he attends fewer events and is less active on community e-mail discussion groups. Some say they noticed this summer that the stress of the investigation took a toll on his appearance — for instance, that he seemed to be shaving less frequently. And his brand has taken a hit among many of Ward 5’s newcomers, who represent the city’s changing demographics.
But Thomas remains popular in large swaths of Northeast, enabling him to keep his grip on his council seat despite a civil settlement with the city’s attorney general’s office over the public funds and the criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Thomas maintained his innocence and rejected calls for his resignation from editorial writers, three council members, the D.C. Republican Party and good-government groups.
“I have good lawyers and people who deal with the legal process, and I am confident through the legal process I will be vindicated,” said Thomas, 50. “My job now is to assure that the citizens of Ward 5 continue to get their fair share, and that is what I continue to do.”
Aiming for normalcy
Since the council returned from summer recess last month, Thomas has tried to project a sense of normalcy: voting on a tax increase and ethics proposals, questioning Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) about jobs for city residents and participating in a campaign to prevent teen pregnancy by speaking out about having a son when he was 19.