Why Does City Hall Still Love Bobby Henon?

It’s finally over. After getting convicted in federal court in November, now-former Councilman Bobby Henon has resigned from City Council, after collecting a few extra paychecks courtesy of the public. That particular saga, aside from the question of whether Henon will keep or lose his pension, has ended.

A bigger problem, however, remains: The unbothered attitude that local politicians have about cavorting with disgraced councilmembers. Before Henon resigned from City Council, most other councilmembers didn’t mind keeping him around. Nor did Mayor Kenney.

The mayor’s statement after Henon’s resignation was like he wanted to say the right things without upsetting Henon. “As I’ve said before, I’ve always believed that Councilmember Henon would do what he feels is right for his constituents, for the people of Philadelphia, and for the entire city,” Kenney said. “While he must now face the consequences of his past decisions, it is important to evaluate the entirety of a person’s contributions to public service throughout their whole career.”

Contra Kenney, a federally convicted politician does not deserve the privilege of doing “what he feels is right” for the city of Philadelphia. What utter nonsense. Henon should’ve been thrown out of City Council the day after his conviction. That he’s been able to stay on Council reminds us that the status quo in local politics sees the public as a nuisance to be tolerated rather than a citizenry to be respected.

Let’s not single out Kenney, though. That would be rude. Other elected officials haven’t been shy about joining the convicted Henon in public, though they aren’t enthusiastic about defending it.

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, for example, sent a media advisory that she joined local union representatives on January 19 to announce her second annual Apprenticeship Guidebook, which gives information to workers interested in the skilled trades. A handful of unions were there, along with State Representative Joe Hohenstein, Council President Darrell Clarke—and Bobby Henon. Never miss a photo op, one supposes.

It doesn’t seem exactly appropriate, though, for city and state officials to share a stage with Henon. It doesn’t express much of a concern for local corruption. Nor does it show wise governance. How, inquiring minds might wonder, do Richardson, Clarke, and Hohenstein justify appearing with Henon? Did they raise any concerns about Henon being there?

That’s hard to say. Not because no one asked, but because Richardson, Clarke, and Hohenstein all declined to respond to an inquiry from Philadelphia Weekly. The public doesn’t deserve a response, and probably shouldn’t ask such impolite questions.

So let this be a lesson, and one to bear in mind as Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s federal trial starts next month. A not-so-powerless contingent in City Hall isn’t bothered by federal convictions. They are content to continue as they see fit. Don’t expect a push for clean governance. Don’t expect transformative action on the murder crisis, carjackings, or the indignities of petty crime. Don’t expect much of an effort to expand housing if it means losing a few parking spaces. City Hall has its priorities. And it’s not terribly concerned if you don’t like it.

    • Anthony Hennen

      Anthony Hennen is executive editor of Philadelphia Weekly. He is managing editor of expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region. Previously, he was managing editor at the James G. Martin Center, a higher ed think tank in Raleigh, North Carolina. Anthony grew up on the Ohio/West Virginia border. @anthonyhennen.

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