As ABC 7 retirement nears, Charles Thomas ‘working as hard as ever’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Charles Thomas

With the exception of sports — most notably during a winning season — there’s no livelier beat to cover in all of Chicago media than local politics. Year in and year out, it’s our town’s other spectator sport.

So who will fill the shoes of Charles Thomas when he retires Friday as political reporter at WLS-Channel 7? At the moment, there isn’t even a front-runner.

Charles Thomas

John Idler, president and general manager of the top-rated ABC-owned station, said no decision has been made yet on a replacement for Thomas, who succeeded Andy Shaw on the beat in 2009. “ABC 7 will rely on our great team of reporters to cover politics,” Idler said.

That leaves ABC 7 temporarily without a direct counterpart to Mary Ann Ahern on NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, Derrick Blakley on CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, Mike Flannery on Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32, and Tahman Bradley on Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9.

Thomas, 65, will mark his last day on the job Friday with an appearance on ABC 7’s “Windy City Live” and an in-house celebration of cake and congratulations. It will cap a 44-year career in journalism, including the last 25 years with “Eyewitness News.”

“I'm having a difficult time with the word ‘retire’ as it applies to leaving ABC 7,” the St. Louis native and University of Missouri alum told me last week. “I decided not to renew when my contract ended last summer then agreed to extend through the presidential campaign and transition at the request of John Idler and [news director] Jennifer Graves. I thank them for allowing me to have the best political reporting job in Chicago and one of the most important in the United States.”

But Thomas won’t be idle for long, as he continues working with partners and investors on a digital platform targeting the African-American community.

“Actually, I've been working as hard as ever these days trying to build the new company and wind down my days on the beat,” he said. “Moving forward, the goal is to use my ‘brand’ and skill set developed over the last 44 years to help the region's black community re-take control of its own message.”

In other words: Stay tuned for more.