Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas’ no good, very bad day has morphed into a no good, very bad couple of years. Last week, while the rest of us were distracted by Montana Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte treating a reporter very badly (or, more accurately, physically assaulting said reporter) for asking questions he didn’t like, Thomas too treated a reporter very badly for asking questions he didn’t like. Unfortunately for Thomas, the Savannah City Council has less tolerance for bad behavior than the U.S. House of Representatives. Like that guy in Montana, Thomas comes with a string of controversies leading up to his latest escapade.
The current problem for Thomas began well before last Friday, when some of his neighbors called animal control about his unlived-in house being overrun with cats. The Savannah Morning News had previously published a legal ad on May 11, 2017, listing the house as a foreclosure. WTOC got wind of the animal control call and sent a reporter to investigate. It may seem like the worst that would happen to the average elected official would be the public embarrassment that would stem from one’s house being in foreclosure and overtaken by presumably feral cats.* But this is Thomas, so he managed to make it much worse.
WTOC reporter Georgiaree Godfrey arrived at the house while Thomas was there and asked him to comment. He responded by calling her a “c—.” Godfrey recorded the exchange, which included Thomas calling the story “fake news.”
On Tuesday, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach held a press conference in which he called for a censure of Thomas. According to DeLoach, he called Thomas after seeing the story and asked him to apologize. In response, Thomas said he wouldn’t, and he’d repeat his actions if given a chance. Charming, amirite?
The Savannah City Council streamed the vote to censure Thomas live last night — and the vote to censure him was unanimous. (It has to be in order to pass under Georgia law.) Censure votes serve as a warning, but they do not affect the alderman’s ability to vote on issues before the city council. Thomas said after the vote that the censure was meaningless and that he was the victim of a conspiracy.
This is not the first time Thomas has called women derogatory names. In February 2016, constituents Debra Kujawa and Karen Thompson filed an ethics complaint against Thomas (which was later dismissed) that included screenshots of Thomas’ Facebook posts where he’d called the two women a myriad of bad names. (Screenshots are included in the link.) Later in the year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released an 82-page report regarding sexual misconduct claims against Thomas after a grand jury decided against forwarding the complaint to a criminal grand jury because the statute of limitations had expired on all cases. Fourteen of the eighteen jurors felt the claims had merit and suggested a pattern of predatory behavior, however.
Thomas maintained a lower profile for a few months, but then this past March, he was in the news again for appearing at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade too drunk to ride the city council float. Pictures surfaced from the event showing Thomas too intoxicated to stand by himself. He got into an argument with the float operator after he was told he could not ride for safety reasons, and the mayor had to intervene. Thomas later apologized for his behavior at the parade.
In some regards, Thomas —who was reelected to a fifth term with 58 percent of the vote in 2015 — is right about the censure vote. There are no legal ramifications. However, at some point, these antics are going to become too much for the voters of the 6th council district. There is a recall petition in circulation now. Further, he seems to have lost the goodwill of his fellow members of the council and the mayor, with the mayor making sure to mention in recent interviews that a resident of the 6th district may wish to file a complaint with the Board of Elections regarding the alderman’s possible lack of an address in the district. What Thomas seems to be doing with all these incidents over the past two years is creating a body of evidence that proves he is unfit to serve, and thereby giving his inevitable opponent in the next race far more than the ammunition needed to end his political career. A conspiracy against him? It looks far more like a politician making a string of bad life choices and then trying to deflect the blame away from himself.
*It turns out they’re his cats, and he returns to the house to feed them, according to a statement Thomas gave authorities. Who leaves their animals behind in a foreclosed house?