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Sadness and anger over Harry Thomas, Jr.

When a politician takes a fall, whether you like him or not, there is a mix of sadness and anger.

In Harry Thomas, Jr.’s case, it is sadness that someone from a prominent family, who grew up with a lot of benefits others around him didn’t have, has managed to squander them all for ego and greed. Anger because his actions hurt not only his family but his constituents and the city as a whole. What he did perpetuates the belief that all politicians are crooks and out for themselves, and that the District of Columbia has more than its fair share of such politicians.

Neither of those two myths should stand.

The District has no more or less crooked or unethical politicians than anyplace else, and in the District most politicians are in it for the right reason. I am not saying they don’t benefit from being in office. Of course they do! We voters treat them differently. We are mostly deferential.

I am always amazed that when constituents meet with and discuss issues with their elected officials they often forget that they pay their salaries and they work for them. Too often politicians respond to constituent requests and ideas as if they are doing them a favor. Many even think that favor should be returned with a vote the next time around. Instead it is the elected official who owes his/her best efforts to their constituents. What we forget is that we feed what must already be the huge ego needed to run for office.

When Thomas stood before the judge, one could only wonder what was going through his mind. He was pleading guilty to felonies which could put him in jail for between 36 and 47 months and strip him of not only his office but his dignity. He put his family in financial straits. He must have understood that his children would never again see him in the same light.

He had to be thinking of his father looking down at him, watching as he squandered a hard-earned legacy. I know that many hope his time in prison will be spent repenting and figuring out how he ended up in this situation and how, in some way, he can make this up to his family as well as the people he was elected to serve. I don’t think Thomas is a bad person, but rather a person that got caught up in the trappings of office and totally lost sight of right and wrong.

Now is the time for the U.S. Attorney to move swiftly on the two other ethics cases he has in front of him involving District officials.

We need closure on those cases. Once that occurs, the District can move forward without this in the background eclipsing all the progress that is being made. If there is criminal activity, those responsible deserve the same fate as Thomas; if what they did was simply unethical or stupid but not criminal the public needs to hear that. If they are innocent, that needs to come out as well.

By Peter D. Rosenstein