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Philly 'con man' announces he's running for state rep, gets ward leader backing | Clout

Lewis Thomas III embellished his résumé. A lot. But will that be a detriment in a Philadelphia state House race?

Despite a controversial past, Lewis Thomas III — shown here in 2015 — is running to replace retiring State Rep. Curtis Thomas.
Despite a controversial past, Lewis Thomas III — shown here in 2015 — is running to replace retiring State Rep. Curtis Thomas.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / File Photograph

One of the axioms of Philly politics is that nothing — not even a federal conviction (looking at you, Willie Singletary) — will prevent a candidate with a deeply questionable past from throwing a hat into the ring.

Take Lewis Thomas III.

The North Philly native first appeared on Clout's radar in 2015, when he flirted with running for City Council. Aside from an affinity for bow ties and stylish specs, Thomas brought one heck of a resumé to the party: school principal, world traveler, holder of two master's degrees and a doctorate, onetime adviser to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Most candidates would kill for such an imposing set of qualifications. Or, you know, they could just make them up.

Thomas admitted that he had, ahem, exaggerated some of his accomplishments after Clout talked to former colleagues in Cleveland and New York, where he was forced out as principal of separate charter schools. Turns out he didn't have a master's and a doctorate from Howard University as he'd claimed, and hadn't worked for Obama or Clinton, either.

Some colleagues accused him of being a con artist. Others suggested he was mentally ill.

But that was then. Thomas insists he's a new man. Last year he managed Teresa Carr Deni's unsuccessful campaign for DA. And now he's running to succeed longtime State Rep. Curtis Thomas in North Philly's 181st District. The lawmaker is expected to retire this month.

This is not the first time the two Thomases have been mentioned in the same breath. Lewis first ran against Curtis in 2008, but was booted off the ballot because he was found to have voted in both Philadelphia and Washington. He mounted another unsuccessful campaign in 2010.

The two men aren't related, but the 181st District is aswirl with rumors that Lewis told voters during past races that he was Curtis' son. "He is not my son," Curtis Thomas said Thursday.

"The last time he ran against Curtis, that rumor was out there," said Arthur Green, Democratic leader of the 14th Ward. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was doing that. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because his last name is Thomas, so maybe some people assumed he is related."

We asked Lewis Thomas if he had in fact blurred his bloodlines during former campaigns. "I have never!" he exclaimed. "How would I have told people I was his son while I was running against him? That doesn't make any sense. That's just stupid and silly."

Thomas said he fully expects to have to address his missteps during the campaign: "I made some mistakes in my past, which have been well-documented by your paper. I take full responsibility for those things."

Thomas argued it's time to move on and focus on issues facing the 181st District, like failing schools and gentrification. He said he and his uncle, longtime Democratic consultant Tommie St. Hill, met during the summer with Rep. Thomas. "He told me that he was going to support me," Thomas said.

That's quite different from what we've been hearing, which is that Rep. Thomas does not want Lewis to replace him.

A source close to the lawmaker said that he met with all of the contenders in the race, and thinks former Democratic National Convention delegate Malcolm Kenyatta is the best candidate. "He comes from a family of service — a family who believes in results, not a lot of conversation," Rep. Thomas told us Thursday. (Also, 14th Ward leader Green said he is backing Kenyatta.)

Can Lewis Thomas overcome his reputation as a con man and win over voters? On paper, it seems like a stretch. But he insists he's already received the endorsement of the 37th Ward.

We ran that one down. Ward leader El Amor Brawne Ali said she had personally endorsed Thomas, but the rest of the ward committee hasn't weighed in yet. A vote on a potential endorsement is scheduled for next week.

Vince Fumo’s son applies for Philly school board, gets rejected

The Greens. The Cohens. The Stacks. The Blackwells. The Williamses. The Goodes. The Rizzos. The Tartagliones.

Doesn't it sometimes feel as if the same dozen families have always — and will always — run Philly?

We got word this week that ex-State Sen. Vince Fumo's son, Vincent Jr., applied for the city's new school board. Made up of local officials, the panel will replace the state-created School Reform Commission later this year.

The possibility of another Fumo getting into politics boggles the mind: Vince Fumo, who was found guilty of 137 counts in 2009, is the embodiment of political corruption in Philadelphia. Vincent Jr. also recently told Philadelphia Magazine that his father "is a person who has no care in the world about other humans other than how they can make him appear greater." So why would he want to get into the old man's game?

Then again, maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that junior is eyeing the business. He is an election board worker, and donated $500 to his friend Tom Wyatt's 2018 campaign for state representative in South Philly.

Reached via email, Vincent Jr. confirmed that he made a bid for the school board. He said he is a founding member of the advisory council for Andrew Jackson School in South Philly, which his daughter attends. He also sat on the committee that helped recruit Jackson's principal.

Those experiences left him "increasingly upset with the bureaucracy at the School District, so of course I jumped at the chance to apply," he said.

He didn't make the cut, though. A nominating panel announced this week that it chose 27 candidates for the city's school board, and Vincent Jr. wasn't on the list. That didn't surprise him: "I knew having my last name would be a detriment publicly for the mayor."

(In a past life, Mayor Kenney was Vince Fumo's protégé, rising from his intern to chief-of-staff. Kenney now says he hasn't talked to the Prince of Darkness for years.)

Vincent Jr. doesn't sound like he's given up on politics. "I've always been a very active citizen," he said, "and lately I've been trying to find my way to do more." In fact, his name may be on the ballot this May: He's running for committee person.


"You know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?"

President Trump, asking U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey during a White House meeting this week why his proposed background-check bill for gun purchases doesn't raise the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21

Staff writer William Bender contributed to this column.