Harry Thomas Jr. in 2012

As the wide open race to replace outgoing Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie continues to take shape, Loose Lips has the perfect campaign slogan for chronic candidate Vincent Orange: “ORANGE YOU GLAD I’M NOT HARRY THOMAS JR.?”

Just in time for the first Ward 5 candidate forum tomorrow night, former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. confirmed to LL his intention to run for his old seat. He resigned in 2012 and pleaded guilty to stealing $350,000 in public funds. Axios was first to report Thomas’ plans.

Thomas was released from prison in 2014 and has since eased back into public life. Most recently, he was elected as a Ward 5 committeeman in the D.C. Democratic Party and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year. He also was elected to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C in a special election to fill a seat his son vacated.

Orange, a former Ward 5 and at-large councilmember himself, has run for local office nearly a dozen times, including an unsuccessful bid for an at-large seat in 2020. He spent much of that campaign trying to smooth the edges of his own rub with the rules.

Orange never pleaded guilty to federal crimes, but he does have the distinction of being the first D.C. councilmember to get a scolding from the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. BEGA cleared Orange in a separate matter, which many saw as an obvious conflict of interest. He accepted a job leading the D.C. Chamber of Commerce after he lost his at-large seat to Councilmember Robert White but before his term officially ended, meaning he would have worked for several months as both legislator and lobbyist. Orange eventually resigned under pressure.

Asked how he will distinguish himself from the 64-year-old Orange, Thomas, 61, acknowledges that their base of support may partially overlap, but says he has a different appeal. Thomas touts his attention as a councilmember to everyday constituent issues, following the example set by his father, who served as the Ward 5 councilmember in the 1980s and ’90s. He says his slogan will be “Harry Thomas Works.”

“I’m not running against VO. I’m running for the Ward 5 Council seat,” says Thomas, who endorsed Orange’s at-large campaign in 2020. “I want to be honest about my weaknesses and about what I’ve overcome in that one chapter in my political career.”

Thomas says his message to voters skeptical of putting someone who violated the public’s trust back into office is to look at the work he’s done to rebuild his life since his release from prison. Part of that work includes connecting formerly incarcerated people with jobs.

“When it comes down to it, I took responsibility and paid my debt,” Thomas says he will tell voters.

Thomas did indeed agree to pay back the public funds he took. He tells LL that he’s paid off a majority of the money and restitution. He doesn’t know the remaining balance but promises to follow up with LL when he tracked down the exact figure.

The lefty activist organization DC for Democracy is putting on the first forum for the growing list of Ward 5 candidates Wednesday night. Along with Orange and Thomas, that list includes Ward 5 Democrats Chair and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Gordon-Andrew Fletcher, Zachary Parker, president and Ward 5 rep on the State Board of Education, and Faith Gibson Hubbard, the former director of Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s Office of Community Affairs.

McDuffie opted not to seek re-election to the Council seat he won after Thomas resigned. Instead, he’s making a run for attorney general since sitting AG Karl Racine isn’t seeking re-election.

Thomas told the Washington Post that he will likely participate in D.C.’s publicly funded campaign program. The other four candidates have said they intend to do the same.

The DC for Democracy forum starts at tomorrow at 7 p.m. Register here.

Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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