A criminal sits on the Philadelphia City Council.
Not an alleged criminal (though there are some of those, too) or even a person who is merely indicted (there is one of those, as well,) but an actual convicted criminal. Councilman Bobby Henon was convicted earlier this month of conspiracy and honest services fraud, two federal crimes. A jury of his peers held beyond a reasonable doubt that Henon committed these crimes.
Is he going to resign his seat? Of course not! Why start providing honest service now, after all these years? “My intention at this time is to continue to serve until I see that there is a transition plan in place that I can feel comfortable with,” Henon told the Inquirer last week.
Henon is going to sit in his office and collect a paycheck for his $138,890-a-year job until the absolute last minute, resigning only after his sentencing in February 2022 as state law requires. Henon has resigned from all of the committees on which he sat, so it is unclear what he will be doing to earn that paycheck, but one thing is beyond doubt: he will be cashing it.
Most Philadelphians are barely surprised at this final act of dishonesty. After all, who can be surprised that a person who betrayed his constituents wants to do so for a little while longer?
But we should be distrurbed at just how many of our purportedly non-criminal officeholders seem to think this is all fine and dandy. Many Republicans have called for Henon to resign immediately, but that isn’t too surprising: Every politician thinks criminals in the other party should quit. The real test of character is how they respond to wrongdoing among their own. Most of Philadelphia’s elected Democrats are failing this test.
There are a few lonely standouts who deserve credit for their integrity.
Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents the 7th councilmanic district, is the only member of that body to have called for Henon’s resignation. A few of the Democrats representing the city in Harrisburg have said the same: Jared Solomon of the 202nd state House district called on Henon to resign when he was first indicted in 2019. Chris Rabb of the 200th district recently added his voice to that of Solomon’s.
That’s it. One of the 14 Democrats on City Council and two of the Democrats in the state House of Representatives can see the problem here. The rest don’t have an issue with a convicted felon helping to write the city’s laws or exercise the notoriously corrupt “councilmanic prerogative” that shapes city zoning decisions behind the scenes.
Most council members just fled from reporters seeking comment, or said something so weak that no one could tell which side they were on. Council President Darrell L. Clarke’s spokesman told the Inquirer’s Max Marin that “it’s premature for us to comment further at this time.” Councilmember Helen Gym, usually the first to get in front of a camera, is nowhere to be found and did not respond to reporters’ calls. The story was the same for most of Henon’s colleagues in City Hall.
Mayor Jim Kenney was more confrontational in his answers. Kenney is an old friend of Henon’s co-conspirator, Johnny Dougherty, and questioned the verdict in no uncertain terms. “Do you think that every major corporation in this city and in this region doesn’t influence on a legislative body?” he said after the trial, “That’s naive to think that that’s not the case.”
A city politician is on the take? No big deal, according to Kenney. Everybody does it!
Kenney, who was recorded in conversations with Henon and Dougherty that were played at the trial, pushed back even harder against the idea that he would ever criticize the convicted union leader or his dogsbody in City Hall. Asked what he would say to Dougherty, Kenney only replied: “None of your business. How’s that?”
How the mayor interacts with notorious criminals is absolutely the people’s business. Shame on Kenney and his cronies on City Council for their silence. Every day they refuse to call for Henon’s resignation is further evidence that they are complicit in Philly’s culture of corruption.