Deafening silence after Dougherty and Henon/Personal freedoms worth fighting for

Local corruption and the decline of freedom during the pandemic

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The silence is deafening following the Dougherty/Henon convictions

On November 15, 2021, John Dougherty, head of Electricians Union Local 98 and Philadelphia City Councilman Robert Henon were convicted in federal court for multiple counts of fraud and public corruption. For anyone who has watched local politics in Philadelphia, this came as no shock, considering the news reports of FBI raids and transcripts of wiretaps detailing corruption between the powerful labor leader and city government that detailed horrible abuses of power and corruption.

However, in the days following the conviction of the Delaware Valley’s most powerful political “kingmaker,” the silence has been deafening from the myriad of elected officials that owe their jobs to a man that courts have just proven as corrupt. This includes Mayor Jim Kenney, who actually praised Dougherty following the conviction. Even worse has been an absence of comment from Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who failed to provide any state oversight or charges relating to the incestuous relationship between Dougherty and Philadelphia corruption scandals.

The question on the minds of Philadelphia taxpayers must be just how far federal prosecutors will look into those who benefitted from and aided Dougherty and Henon’s running of the Philadelphia political machine. 

Dougherty was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and seven counts of honest services wire fraud. The jury convicted Henon on one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, eight counts of honest services wire fraud, and one count of bribery. The pair’s honest services wire fraud convictions were based on schemes to use the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections to retaliate against the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for using nonunion labor; in addition to other schemes to rig the Plumbing Code, pressure the Building Trades; towing of cars; extort Comcast in their construction of the city’s two largest skyscrapers; and surrounding the passage of Mayor Jim Kenney’s controversial “Soda Tax.” Additional wire fraud and bribery charges against Henon were based on a $5,000 campaign contribution from the Communication Workers of America (CWA) union to Henon’s campaign bank account.

In looking at why there are no cries of outrage from our state and local political leaders, as well as why there are seemingly no political checks and balances in Pennsylvania’s most populous region – one simply has to “follow the money.” While federal prosecutors are appointees, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and District Attorneys are all elected, and for the last eight years have all shared the same political party. This presents a major conflict of interest since the State Attorney General is supposed to work against possible corruption at the county and municipal levels. When Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) received $130,000 from Dougherty’s Local 98 under his personal campaign committee and then another $50,000 under the Shapiro/Richards campaign committee from when he was a Montgomery County Commissioner – a serious conflict and ethics issue exists.

“Today’s verdict is a strong message to the political power players of this city that the citizens of Philadelphia will not tolerate public corruption as ‘business as usual’,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier-Williams said. “John Dougherty is not above the law. He is not entitled, had no right, to pull the strings of official City business as if he were elected to office. And Bobby Henon was not elected to represent Local 98 or John Dougherty’s interests on City Council, or any union for that matter, but to represent all the people of the City’s 6th Councilmanic District – a fact which he failed to remember in doing the bidding of his political godfather, Dougherty. Philadelphians deserve more than a system that favors the few who have a ‘person they can call’ to get things done. Everyone deserves equal access to the decision-makers in their government.”

While the acting U.S. Attorney is certainly correct in her statement, the question remains as to how people have become decision-makers in Philadelphia’s government. Dougherty, while controlling the coffers of Local 98, has backed a myriad of local politicians – from the register of wills to members of congress and our governor.  A valid question exists as to how Pennsylvania’s Inspector General community still lacks the independent authority that exists in other jurisdictions, and how the state Attorney General has failed to do what federal law enforcement took years to accomplish.

While Dougherty’s camp will try to paint these convictions as an attack on organized labor, the evidence points to the contrary. One only has to look back to footage of Local 98 operative Ray Dellavella harassing 2003 Mayoral candidate Sam Katz in Tigre Hill’s documentary “Shame of a City” to see that 98’s involvement in campaigns from Street to Kenney were more about wielding power vs. helping the working man. “From the start, John Dougherty and Bobby Henon sought to tag this as an anti-union case,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Philadelphia. “Let’s be clear. The FBI has no problem with labor unions. It’s criminals we’re after, like a local power broker who gives an elected official a handsome salary and benefits he didn’t earn, in exchange for doing that benefactor’s business at City Hall. Today, the jury called it what it was, a crooked quid pro quo – one that tilted the playing field in Dougherty’s favor, giving him an unfair advantage over every Philadelphian who acts with fairness and integrity. That is corruption, that is wrong, and this city deserves so much better.”

Can we finally change the culture of corruption controlling the birthplace of American democracy? In New Orleans, it took a massive hurricane to get numerous federal agencies to look into the corrupt machine running the “Big Easy.” In Detroit, it took the first bankruptcy declared by a major American city to bring an emergency manager in to spotlight on just how poorly “Motown” was being run. If our federal authorities keep “peeling back the onion” on those who worked with and benefitted from Dougherty’s support throughout the years, a catalyst for true change may emerge.

Furthermore, will the disinfectant of sunlight on the political machine led by Dougherty and Henon drive Pennsylvania voters toward candidates who promote strong ethics controls in the upcoming 2022 election? If so, all eyes will be on the candidates least aligned with Delaware Valley party politics and to those who have plans to promote oversight in state and local government.

Benjamin Mannes is a decorated former municipal and federal law enforcement officer before being thrust into a legal battle over Washington, D.C.’s unconstitutional firearms prohibition in 2005. Following his 2007 reinstatement to the D.C. police, Mannes served as a consultant and expert witness; and as the director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine from 2008-2017. He is a regular contributor to Philadelphia Weekly, Broad + Liberty, and other publications, and serves on Lou Barletta’s Public Safety Advisory Board.

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Personal freedoms are worth fighting for

As we prepare to bring 2021 to a close and look ahead to a new year, it’s long past time to restore the faith Pennsylvanians once had in their highest elected office. That faith – and trust – has been shattered during a pandemic where Gov. Wolf and unelected bureaucrats controlled virtually all aspects of our lives.

They forgot they’re public servants. That’s why I’m building a candidacy for governor that will put people and their personal freedoms first. Freedom is worth fighting for, and it’s time to fight against those who continue to distrust Pennsylvania families to do the right things.

We saw this distrust time and time again during the pandemic.

In creating an inconsistent, confusing and secretive process for deciding what businesses would have to close during his lockdown, Gov. Wolf’s bureaucrats chose who could go to work and support their families and who could not.

By placing special interests before parents, our governor told us who could go to schools and who could not.

Listening to so-called experts, our governor told us who could receive health care and who could not. In the process, countless Pennsylvanians were denied the ability to seek critical health care needs, such as mammograms.

Our governor even told us who could congregate and who could publicly protest.

With such unfettered power and disregard for personal freedoms, Pennsylvanians soon found they had little ability to restrain this governor.

Gov. Wolf was able to do much of this in secret by closing down Pennsylvania’s Open Records office and repeatedly denying requests to release information to the public. That led to a series of tyrannical decisions that hurt Pennsylvania small businesses, families and communities.

In the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, the Wolf administration’s plan for the shutdown of businesses was hastily devised and changed more than nine times within a week, according to an audit released by Pennsylvania Auditor General Tim DeFoor. In fact, the plan put in place had more restrictions than the federal government.

When Gov. Wolf unilaterally decided to conduct contact tracing of Pennsylvania citizens, it handed a $30 million, no-bid contract to an out-of-state business that billed itself as a “staffing services” company. That company would expose the personal information of 72,000 Pennsylvanians, including children, on the internet.

Recently, when extending his powers, Gov. Wolf said: “We are in a different time now – a time where we are going to think differently; we are going to have to social distance; we are going to have to wear masks. The government will do its best to make you feel comfortable.” He reiterated: “The government is going to do its best to make you feel comfortable.”

What Gov. Wolf is really saying is government is going to do its best to make Pennsylvanians comfortable giving up their civil liberties.

Pennsylvanians know this as they watched other states and governors – Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Texas’ Greg Abbott – respect personal freedoms and trust their fellow citizens.

As a father who wants his children to build their lives in Pennsylvania, our citizens need to know that their government respects our Constitution, the rule of law, and the idea that people come first.

The critical work must begin to restore personal freedoms, and that’s exactly what I intend to do as governor.

The truth is our country was founded on, and its success is because of, the idea of individual freedom. Too often we take freedom for granted, but the last 18 months have shown us that we can never let our guard down.

When you get comfortable giving up your freedoms, the government will get comfortable taking them. We’re not a society that accepts being told to stay home and let government figure it out. Pennsylvania is a can-do society. Let us know what the challenges are, and we will meet them head on.

Gov. Wolf doesn’t have faith in the people of Pennsylvania. I do. Not on my last breath will I ever feel comfortable giving up my freedoms. As your governor, I’ll never ask you to give up yours. As Americans, nothing is more sacred.

Jake Corman is a longtime public servant and a Republican candidate for governor.

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