Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. has been walking a mighty fine line the past couple of weeks.
When you’re representing a ward that contains both quickly gentrifying (and gayifying) areas like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Brookland, in addition to the generally conservative Bungalow Belt and many of the city’s most politically active churches, same-sex marriage would be one of those issues you might wish would go away.
Thomas veered heavily to one side of that line when he voted this month to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages here in D.C. He leaned even further when the Washington Blade reported last Friday that Thomas was on the record in support of a full gay marriage bill—-a story LL had highlighted in his Friday news roundup.
Leaned too far, perhaps: That afternoon, Thomas spokesperson Victoria Leonard called LL to say the Blade story, by Lou Chibarro Jr., wasn’t true. Her boss, she said, wasn’t committed either way.
Chibbaro says that he went with his story after Leonard mentioned to him a questionnaire that Thomas had filled out for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance ahead of his 2006 election. It asked, “Do you support legal recognition of marriages between partners of the same sex?” Thomas replied, “Yes.” Leonard told Chibbaro that her boss stood by his response three years later.
“She was very upbeat and definitive,” the veteran reporter says. Thomas himself was in Las Vegas for the shopping-centers conference at the time and unavailable for direct comment
Leonard says she indeed told Chibarro that her boss stood by his old line. Giving such an unequivocal response, she says, was a mistake. “I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a councilmember,” she tells LL. “As a spokesperson, I’ll have to learn to be more careful, especially on tumultuous issues.”
LL finally got Thomas himself on the horn yesterday: “That’s why I always speak to you guys directly,” Thomas says. “My spokesperson’s statement was taken out of character a little bit.”
OK, fine, unfiltered, straight from the horse’s mouth. No confusion, right? Well, see if you can parse these comments from Thomas:
“We’re going to have to make sure whatever we do passes the congressional smell test. And so I am looking at how we look at possible referendums and other options where we have a true voice of the people on this issue, to strengthen our position when we go forward.”
So you favor a voter referendum, then?
“Well, I want to look at the possibilities of having one…make sure that we as councilmembers ensure we have due process in this whole piece. I think we’ve gone a long way in a quick period of time, and people need to have input in this process. And I’ve stuck to my guns about my position on it, but at the same time, we must be open to making sure that the whole citizenry feels like it was engaged in this process.”
Stuck to your guns? What guns?
“My position is that, I’ve supported the equity issues in recognizing what other states have already done, so people would not have those legal issues here in the District of Columbia.”
What about the questionnaire?
“I am supportive of that, but again, in defining that support, you have to look at how you get to that point. I think there’s legislative [ways] and there’s ways through referendums to do it. And so I haven’t hedged from my support on the issue. My issue is how you bring others along in a city with such a diverse opinion on it.”
Haven’t hedged, huh?
“Have you ever seen me hedge? I’m not a hedger, man. That’s not in my nature!”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery