Vicent Orange reaches for Thomas' committee seat

(AP, ABC7) - At-large councilmember Vincent Orange made a bid for the chairmanship of the committee on economic development Wednesday evening.

Harry Thomas led the committee until earlier Wednesday, when he stepped down from the chairman’s post because of allegations he misused funds. The duties of the committee were transferred to the committee of the whole by Council Chairman Kwame Brown at Thomas’ request, a move that Orange said he “cannot accept.”

“If the desire is truly to ensure that the economic development agenda moves forward in an efficient and expeditious manner, there is no better person available to lead this Committee than me,” Vincent Orange, At Large Councilmember, said. He pointed out that he had not been assigned to any committees in his current term.

“It is vitally important at this time that we not only have a leader for this Committee, but that the economic development within the District does not lose momentum,” Orange stated.

Thomas said he resigned to avoid disrupting the committee's work by the investigation he faces.

"This is not an admission of guilt,” he told ABC7's Mark Segraves during a phone interview. “I do not want all the good work of the committee to create jobs and opportunity to be mired in my personal matter,” Thomas said.

Thomas said, "this decision was on my shoulders."

On Wednesday, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he planned to transfer all economic development matters to the Committee of the Whole temporarily until after the Council’s summer recess. "I will make further suggested changes at that time. Going forward, I want to ensure that the economic development agenda moves forward in an efficient and expeditious manner,” Brown said.

Thomas (D-Ward 5) is accused in a lawsuit of misusing more than $300,000 in city money.

In an interview with NewsChannel 8's Bruce DePuyt, Thomas said he recommended Brown move economic development to the full Council out of concern for "the integrity of the institution." He said there are "important projects" before the committee that should be free to move forward without the "added scrutiny" of the charges he's facing.

Brown said he would discuss the Thomas allegations with his Council colleagues after a legislative meeting Tuesday before announcing his plans.{ }

The city Attorney General filed the suit against Thomas on Monday. It alleges the council member diverted some $300,000 in public funds for personal use. The AG maintains Thomas used money intended for the Team Thomas baseball program to buy an expensive SUV and to travel.

Brown said in a statement late Monday that he was "deeply disheartened" by the civil complaint against Thomas.

The chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee called on Thomas to step down Wednesday.

"Anything short of resigning from the DC Council is not acceptable. Mr. Thomas has lost the public's trust and needs to step down immediately," stated Bob Kabel, Chairman of the DC Republican Committee.

Thomas has denied any wrongdoing. The D.C. Attorney General's Office, which filed the lawsuit, is seeking more than $1 million in damages. Thomas could also face criminal charges.