They say politics often makes for strange bedfellows — although in this situation some of the bedfellows may wake up to a spanking they weren’t expecting.
As we hurtle toward the Oct. 5 runoff for Mobile’s city elections, one of the strangest things is happening — Herman Thomas is gaining support from some pro-annexation business groups because they believe he’s more likely than his opponent to allow a vote to expand the city’s population. As we report in this week’s paper, political action committees (PACs) like South Alabamians for Good Government, the Mobile Area Association of Realtors and the Southern States Police Benevolent Association have donated money to Thomas’ campaign.
All of this probably wouldn’t be so strange if Herman Thomas wasn’t a disgraced judge accused by numerous young prisoners of taking them out of jail, spanking them with a paddle and forcing them to have sex with him. That’s the part that makes this kind of odd.
I completely understand the desire for annexation. As I’ve written many, many times, Mobile needs to secure the population and financial growth happening outside the city’s western border. But is supporting someone who was accused of such massive civil rights violations the right way to get it?
It’s easy to brush aside Thomas’ trial because it was so long ago — 12 years now. But make no mistake, Herman Thomas was never found “not guilty” of all of those charges. The jury was hung — according to jurors we interviewed at the time, primarily because there was one die-hard Thomas supporter who had made it onto the panel. Under normal circumstances, Thomas would have been retried, but the retired out-of-town judge who’d been brought in to hear the case, who frequently seemed to be sleeping, simply waved his hand at the end of things and dismissed all of the charges.
I covered that trial. It was a joke. I also listened to hours of interviews with men telling their stories of how Thomas used his power to force them into sexual acts with him. It was very hard to hear those interviews and imagine the powerlessness the men felt. They said once the judge had his eye on them, there would be legal consequences if they didn’t do what he wanted.
I will always believe Herman Thomas didn’t wind up in jail for the rest of his life because he cunningly preyed on prisoners. They were easy to dismiss as liars, but most importantly of all, his conviction could have led to hundreds and hundreds of cases having to be retried.
Thomas routinely moved cases off of other judges’ dockets onto his own, selecting individuals he wanted in his courtroom, for whatever reason. That’s a fact. It’s not a fantasy or conspiracy. Every one of those men could have claimed he manipulated their cases. I never got the feeling the state or federal governments truly wanted to put Thomas behind bars because of the huge train wreck it would create. Better to let him just fade away.
The feds dragged around on investigating him, allowing many statutes of limitations to expire, before Eric Holder’s office instructed the local U.S. Attorney to recuse from the case. Is the fact Holder’s wife is from Mobile instrumental in that decision? I’ve always thought so, especially since the recusal email was sent the day after Barack Obama became president. Ordering recusal from the prosecution of a Mobile, Alabama, circuit judge hardly seems like a pressing first-day-on-the-job issue for the U.S. Attorney General.
Obviously, the Alabama and Florida bar associations thought enough wrongdoing was proved during Thomas’ trial to warrant stripping him of his law license. The head of the Alabama State Bar actually showed up at the courthouse and disbarred him on the spot when the trial ended. Disbarment initially lasts five years, but Thomas has still never been given his license back, even after annual appeals.
Those who are inclined to believe the ridiculous tale Thomas has concocted and repeated over the past 12 years — that he was prosecuted because he dared to run for the position of presiding Circuit Court judge — please always remember, he resigned from the bench voluntarily rather than face a hearing before the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission. Hardly sounds like something an innocent person would do.
I’ve made these points before, but it’s important to repeat them to the people who are supporting the political comeback of Herman Y. Thomas in the name of annexation. You are making a deal with the devil.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about all of this is Thomas hasn’t said anything more indicative that he will vote for annexation than has his opponent Cory Penn. I keep hearing, “Herman is in favor of annexation,” but I don’t see that anywhere. In a recent debate on WKRG, he called annexation “an important issue” and said the council didn’t spend enough time discussing it in 2019. He added that while residents had “valid concerns” about annexation, the “city must grow.” There’s plenty of wiggle room there.
Penn sat down for a half-hour podcast interview with us two weeks ago and said, “Annexation is one way to grow our city and I’m pro-growth. With that being said, I want to see a plan to see just how annexation will impact our current communities we serve and a transparent and detailed plan that identifies the advantages and I think when we have that plan we can share that with our constituents. That’s the thing; I want to hear from my constituents. I would like to see that plan, but I’m pro-growth. I want Mobile to grow.”
I don’t know that there’s a tremendous difference in those positions, but there certainly appears to be a tremendous difference between the two men. Penn seems like exactly the kind of person Mobile and the African American community should want in a leadership position.
And even if Thomas flat out says he’ll vote for annexation, there’s no reason to believe he will. Honesty hasn’t been one of his strong points.
I’ve had supporters of District 2 Councilman Levon Manzie telling me repeatedly lately that he has “softened” on his annexation position. I’m sure he has after half the district ran against him. But if they’re so sure Manzie will vote for annexation, then there’s zero need to have Thomas on the council. Yet some of those same people telling me Manzie will definitely vote “yes” are also supporting Thomas. Only five votes in favor are required.
Neither Manzie nor his opponent, former City Councilman William Carroll, have made public statements supportive of annexation either. Hopefully, before the election, everyone will go on the record as to what they will do so voters aren’t left trying to read the tea leaves.
To those groups supporting Thomas as the key to annexation, just keep in mind the door you will be opening if he’s elected to City Council. That’s four years in the public eye. Four years of politically rehabilitating himself. Four years of building a political base.
If we wind up with Councilman Spanky running for mayor in 2025, don’t say you weren’t warned.
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