I don’t see how Councilman Bobby Henon comes out of this
Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon spent the last few days testing the waters to see if he could still hang out in his constituency, nestled among his base of support and eke out an existence operating his city council constituent service operation from remote.
It would give him something to do while he waits out the long process fighting a 116-count indictment of IBEW Local 98’s leadership, he figures.
It sounds nice for him to immediately resign but economics says that the vast expense that a Federal indictment this big costs to defend, Councilman Henon will need to continue to draw a salary–both from Local 98 and from his council packet to pay his lawyer, Brian McMonagle.
Off and on over the last few days I’ve delved into the long indictment to get my own read of the councilman’s behavior, trying to compare it to the Henon that I personally know.
On Bobby’s persona as a champion of union workers — ‘Fuck the plumbers’
Henon’s long tenure at Local 98 has definitely caused much of John Dougherty’s own persona to reflect into Henon’s thinking. Henon viewed himself as a warrior for the union and deadly to its enemies.
Page 125 features an episode where the Plumber’s union was seeking the councilman’s help to get favorable building codes updated, limiting where PVC piping can be used. Henon knew the plumbers were helpless while legislation was being discussed; Johnny Doc and Henon conspired to ensure that the Plumber’s union would back a vote Doc needed.
The reason: at this time this was happening, Doc was seeking to be elected leader of the Building Trades Council, effectively putting Doc as the mouthpiece for all the building trades labor groups in the city. Doc suspected that the Plumbers would not back Doc. During a wiretapped phonecall between Doc and Henon, he let his feelings known. “Fuck the plumbers.”
Henon then told an “elected state official” that he was holding the City’s building code legislation up as leverage.
And then there are Doc’s sworn enemies… the carpenters and Teamsters unions…
On Bobby introducing the Soda Tax as delivering on the mayor’s Pre-K initiative
Wherever you might be on the worth of the $137 million-dollar Soda Tax (that’s what it’s collected so far so-sayeth the city controller), the real story of how this tax came to be in our city is something truly shocking and unexpected.
Starting on Page 119, the US attorney describes a scenario where Bobby Henon had caught wind and viewed a commercial that the Teamsters Union put together featuring some Doc criticisms. Henon exploded, picked up the phone and called Dougherty.
Henon: “I’m going to fuck them big time, ya know…“
Two days after this phone call, Henon and Doc reached out to an advertising agency to lay ground work on selling the idea of a soda tax. Two months later Dougherty intimated out loud that he wanted the soda tax passed to kill jobs at the Teamsters Union.
While the mayor’s office put on a public face that the soda tax had a groundswell of support, there was nearly none. Dougherty was one of the leading proponents behind the Philadelphia sweetened beverage tax, including numerous appearances in City Hall to lobby for it, and doing plenty of arm-twisting to ensure it happened.
Our own mayor devilishly tried to fool our city’s black clergy by buying-off the chapter president of the NAACP. 20 members of the black clergy have since denounced the tax since businesses pass the tax directly on to low-income consumers.
And then there was of course the money-push by Michael Bloomberg hoping to see one of his own policy ideas stick. It nearly did become a nationwide hit, except Chicago passed and then just as quickly repealed its own soda tax. Efforts to spread the nanny-tax ever onward have fizzled out.
The remaining foul-aftertaste from the Soda Tax is that Pre-K is only a small component of where the money the tax collects is being allocated against. The mayor was caught off guard when Rebecca Rhynhart, the city controller, stepped in to announce an ongoing audit of proceeds and revenue collected.
The Children’s Hospital Saga
When it came to Local 98 business, Henon was more than willing to sell out his council seat. Page 112 of the indictment describes Henon taking calls directly from Local 98 and then immediately filing bogus complaints to the Department of Licenses and Inspections to stop two kiddie-MRI machines to be installed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
What’s hilarious about this caper is that at least one L+I employee caught the fraud and reversed one of the stop work orders put against the hospital. During the installation of a second MRI machine, L+I was sent back out to condemn the entire imaging department where the machine was located.
During this whole affair, Councilman Henon was being paid a salary for an untitled director’s position at Local 98. And during telephone and text conversations he was reminded that he was put on City Council to do Local 98’s bidding, and business.
Was Bobby doing it for the children? I wonder.
Personally interacting with Bobby Henon has made me feel sick inside
During the early years Councilman Henon definitely prioritized going after blight and decline of Northeast Philadelphia. It’s an area that most white-liberals who live in the city’s gentrifying areas ignore. During the lean years of the 1970s-1990s this 1/3-rd of town generated half the City’s tax earnings.
Over the past 15 years bits and parts of the Northeast have been fading. Employers closed, residents died and surviving children no longer wanted to invest in their homes. Ownership blocks converted one by one to rental and absentee-rental dominated areas. The heroin epidemic has spread throughout this part of the city and pockets have seen alarming increases of crime. Depending on where you live, parts of the Northeast seem on the brink.
This is where I and Councilman Henon’s concerns merged. At one point he appointed me to team up with a property review committee he made up of various community leaders and organizers through parts of his council district. One by one, nuisance properties were brought in to review. Photographs were collected, owners investigated, resolutions found. The pattern was repeated a few times and several civic organizations started review committees of their own.
Councilman Henon personally intervened to push super-tax-delinquent properties into sheriff sale, refer drug houses to the DA’s office and find other remedies to get properties to turn the corner and a resolution found. For once, more residents were interested in fighting the blight than they were looking to escape from it in the sanctuary of a mover’s truck.
But this darker Bobby Henon that I now know almost seems to erase the one that I’ve met. The petty, conniving, stab-you-in-the-back, my-way-or-the-highway councilman that the Federal indictment and soon the wiretap tapes will show, is just absolutely demoralizing.
My communication with Mr. Henon’s office ended after I learned a few particulars about two of Mr. Henon’s aides that I don’t really want to discuss here. I never did receive a wiretap notice from the FBI, but I did talk with him on the phone during the period he was being wiretapped. I had written about a controversy involving 7777-R State Road, a property Henon was looking for the City to buy to expand the prion complex. I never did find anything about that land deal to be shady, but something about it never sat well with me.
After that, I avoided any further contact.
Maybe it was something in the back of my mind that told me you probably don’t want to depend too much on Bobby for anything.