Delano Hunter, a Ward 5 civic activist who unsuccessfully challenged Thomas in the September 2010 Democratic primary, told the Washington City paper this week that he plans to run for the seat in a special election expected to take place in May.
“It’s certainly my intention to run again if the seat opens up,” the City Paper quoted him as saying just prior to Thomas’s resignation.
Thomas, a Democrat, announced his resignation less than a day after federal authorities charged him with felony theft for allegedly embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds and allegedly filing false income tax returns with the IRS.
Thomas was expected to plead guilty to at least two charges on Friday morning in U.S. District Court as part of a plea bargain arrangement, according sources familiar with the case.
“I am resigning my position as a member of the Council effective immediately,” Thomas said in a statement released Thursday night. “I made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgment. I take full responsibility for my actions. I am truly sorry.”
Among those calling for Thomas’s resignation last fall, when news surfaced that he was about to be charged with an embezzlement related offense, were Robert Turner, president of the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group; and Robert Kabel, the openly gay chairman of the D.C. Republican Party.
Most gay Democratic activists who supported Thomas before news surfaced about his legal problems, including the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, did not join others in calling for his resignation.
Thomas drew praise from LGBT activists in 2009 when he voted for the city’s same-sex marriage law over strong objections from many of his Ward 5 constituents, who oppose gay marriage. A large number of the ward’s residents are socially conservative African Americans who support civil rights related legislation but oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Clergy from black churches in the ward testified against the marriage bill during a contentious City Council hearing prior to the Council’s vote to approve the bill in December 2009.
The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage and other national groups opposed to same-sex marriage contributed tens of thousands of dollars for direct mail, robocalls, and racially divisive flyers attacking Thomas during his re-election campaign in 2010, according to Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, an LGBT-supportive organization.
Right Wing Watch said some of the same anti-gay groups supported Delano Hunter’s race against Thomas but didn’t contribute large amounts of money directly to his campaign.
A NOM spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
LGBT activists were quick to point out that the attack campaign against Thomas had little effect. He won the Democratic primary with just under 62 percent of the vote. Hunter came in second with 19 percent of the vote.
Gay Republican Tim Day, a member of Log Cabin Republicans, ran against Thomas in the general election in November 2010 but lost by a lopsided margin in a ward that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Other Democrats are expected to run in the May special election for Thomas’s seat. LGBT advocates and gay residents of the ward will likely appeal to Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who formerly held the Ward 5 seat, to back a candidate supportive of LGBT equality and same-sex marriage. Orange remains a popular figure in the Ward.
He opposed same-sex marriage at the time he held his Ward 5 seat and when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006. But Orange changed his position shortly before he ran for the at-large Council seat in a special election, saying he now strongly supports civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
Even if Hunter were to win the Ward 5 seat, the same-sex marriage law is considered to be a settled issue by most the city’s political establishment. Anti-gay groups failed in an attempt to bring the marriage law before D.C. voters in a referendum. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld rulings by the city’s lower courts that an existing city law prevents a referendum from being held if its outcome would lead to discrimination – in this case discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to marry.