What did we learn from At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange‘s “Ward 5 Leadership Meeting” last night held in the basement of Israel Baptist Church?

We learned that Orange, the former Ward 5 councilmember who was sporting a “5” pin last night that he’d used in previous campaigns, has effectively staked out his role as the ward’s guardian and protector. Dozens of community leaders showed up to Orange’s meeting last night, including former councilmembers William Spaulding, John Ray, and current councilmembers Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson. Their appearance was a testament to Orange’s pull in the ward. It’s not surprising that Orange would fill the vacuum left by disgraced former councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.‘s resignation, but Orange’s efforts to be Ward 5’s great defender may create some tension with Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown, who has scheduled his own meeting for Ward 5 residents tonight.

We learned that Ward 5 residents needed a place to vent. For the most part, talk of Thomas’ misdeeds was off limits at the meeting. But several community reps at least referenced Thomas’  performance as a councilmember by warning potential candidates looking to replace HTJ that Ward 5 neighborhoods would not accept anything short of excellence in their political candidates. “Anything less will not do,” said the Bloomingdale rep, a sentiment echoed by other community organization leaders. That may be pie-in-the-sky talk, but it did appear to have a cathartic effect last night from a ward that’s obviously hurting.

We learned that Thomas’ thieving is off limits. No one appeared interested in taking stock of all the crimes Thomas had committee since taking office. Instead talk centered on praying for Thomas’ family. Ray, a lobbyist who represented Thomas when questions about his extracurriculars were first raised, said: “Mr. Thomas has stepped forward and admitted to his wrongdoing. We should not look back, but we should look forward.” Delano Hunter, who ran against Thomas last election and is probably one of the favorites to win the special election, came up with this especially cheesy line: “We should let the court systems do the judging, but it’s up to us to do the praying.”

Finally, we learned that Ward 5 is not interested in a poll, thank you very much. One of the oddest parts of the night was when famed D.C. pollster Ron Lester gave a presentation about a the mechanics of polling. The idea of conducting a poll appears to be the brainchild of Orange, but the crowd last night showed little patience with doing a poll and badgered Lester about why he was even talking about a “snapshot in time”  when there aren’t even official candidates at this point.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery