D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. remained defiant Tuesday, one day after the city’s attorney general accused him of directing more than $300,000 in taxpayer funds for his personal use.
Faced with the possibility of losing his powerful chairmanship of the Economic Development Committee, Thomas (D) told reporters he was not considering preemptively stepping down from the post.
”The subject matter here has nothing to do with my committee chairmanship,” he said after a legislative meeting today.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) is set to convene a meeting after today’s legislative business to hear from Thomas as the council’s 12 other members consider how to deal with the body’s latest ethical lapse.
Thomas said he would “express my feelings about what’s going on so they’re not blindsided as a common courtesy.”
”I’m going to do what’s best for this institution always,” he added.
But privately, several council members are concerned that Thomas, who is accused of spending city money on a $60,000 SUV and various trips, could remain head of his panel, which exerts great influence over public and private development matters.
In public comments, members were more measured.
Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he was “very upset” by the allegations. “If true,” he added, “he’s got to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
”It’s really serious,” said Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7). “I’ve known Harry personally for the most part of my life. I know the person he is. It will be very upsetting to me if these allegations are true.”
But Alexander said she did not think Thomas should have to give up any council responsibilities while the matter is investigated. “I don’t think the economic development committee has anything to do with the allegations. Until the allegations are proven, I don’t think action should be taken.”
Most council members, however, declined to comment, waiting to hear Thomas present his side of the story “I want to hear more,” said Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).
Brown said in a statement yesterday that he would announce a “plan of action” after meeting with colleagues. Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman pro tempore of the Council, said she expected him to announce some course “very soon.”
There is precedent for removing a committee chair: Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) relinquished oversight of the taxicab industry after his chief of staff was arrested on bribery charges in September 2009. Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was stripped of the chairmanship of the Housing Committee last year after he was found to have given contracts to a girlfriend and direct earmarks to nonprofit groups he created.
Removing Thomas from his committee post would create another problem for Brown — having to hand the position to another member who might already have committee responsibilities or who might not be a political ally of Brown’s.
One option discussed by council staff is absorbing the economic development committee’s responsibilities into the Committee of the Whole, which is controlled by Brown. But that prospect has some members nervous about concentrating more power in the chairman’s office.