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Tom Sherwood's Notebook: Harry Thomas Jr.

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Poor Harry? What About the Children?

NBC Washington

Your Notebook has known Harry Thomas Jr. a long time.

We knew his father, Harry Sr.

As a Washington Post reporter a while back, we’d drag our young son to Ward 5, where our preteen was always treated warmly by the Thomas family.

The senior Thomas also was good news copy. He chaired the committee overseeing parking tickets.

By then, we were working for NBC4.

With cameras rolling, we asked Harry Sr. if he had any overdue tickets himself.

“No, I don’t,” he replied firmly.

“I can check,” we cautioned.

“Don’t check, Tom, don’t check.”

The exchange still amuses those who saw it on TV.

But there is nothing amusing about Harry Thomas Jr.

His heartless theft of $353,000 of our city money over three years underwrote blatant, selfish and foolish spending sprees for himself.

Worse yet, that money had been intended for city programs to help children in Ward 5 and elsewhere. It was for sports programs that the junior Thomas unendingly trumpeted as the way to keep young people focused and achieving, sometimes against great odds.

Yet Thomas, according to the court papers and prosecutors, began stealing from his very first days in office in 2007, stealing from the children he laughed with, played ball with and championed -- at least in words -- every chance he got.

What a crock. What a crook.

Last week, the depth of his thievery officially became known.

Thomas walked into U.S. District Court as a leader of the city and walked out a convicted felon. After months of pious denials -- his family, his children, his reputation meant more to him than anything, he had said -- Thomas fessed up to it all. Only a handful of council members previously had called for Thomas’s resignation. When the fact of his odious criminality became unavoidable, there were a few more calls for him to step aside, including, finally, one from Mayor Vincent Gray. (Chairman Kwame Brown’s statement said only that he expected Thomas to resign.)

Nearly every official written statement we read, however, expressed more concern for Thomas and the impact on his family than it did for the children who were cheated. Various people called it a “sad” day for the city, but that was about it. And some earnestly added that the Thomas family and the city need to put this ugly chapter behind us and “move on.”

Well, pardon the interruption, but don’t citizens get a moment to just be angry?

It was vile greed. (Look it up if you don’t know the word “vile.” It fits.)

• Waste of time?

At-large D.C. Council member David Catania thought it would be a good idea for a group of council members to travel this week to New Hampshire. It wasn’t for the first-in-the-nation GOP primary last night. It was to meet New Hampshire legislators and rally them for D.C. voting rights and/or statehood tomorrow. Catania says it is time to “expand the conversation.”

The Live Free or Die state has been supportive in the past, but with the Thomas embarrassment -- and two criminal investigations, of campaigns run by Mayor Gray and Chairman Brown, still going on -- we hardly think it’s time to go democracy shopping.

We are the first to attack folks who decry wrongdoing in local Washington as an excuse to oppose congressional voting rights or even the right to govern ourselves. Those critics never seem to ask Illinois to give up governing despite its two former governors in jail now.

It just seems now is not the time for this trip.

With the overall council’s approval rating at just 30 percent in a recent poll, maybe there’s more immediate work to be done here in Washington.

We certainly know the prosecutors are still working.

As one friend wrote to us this past week, it’s one down and two to go.

• A final word.

There was a terrific memorial service last week for the late Vincent H. Cohen, a true powerhouse lawyer and civic leader in Washington. The service needed one of the huge rooms at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to accommodate the friends and legal community that showed up.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in the audience, as was U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald Machen. In fact, the action against the disgraced Thomas was delayed a day or so because Cohen’s son, Vinnie Jr., is a lead prosecutor in the city investigations. Vinnie Jr. spoke eloquently about how he “never had to go out in the street to find a role model,” because his father was always there for him.

As we sat surrounded by the elite of local Washington’s legal establishment, we couldn’t help but think of that proud tribute by one son of our city and the disgrace of another.

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