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Bobby Henon is allowed to remain a councilmember after his conviction until he gets sentenced in February 2022. Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil
Bobby Henon is allowed to remain a councilmember after his conviction until he gets sentenced in February 2022. Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

The Johnny Doc verdict and what it means for Philly City Hall

The conviction of powerful union boss John Dougherty and his councilmember-for-hire Bobby Henon has some talking about much-needed reform.

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On Nov. 15, the jury verdicts were passed down after three and a half days of deliberations in the federal bribery trials of IBEW Local 98 Boss John Dougherty and Philly Councilmember Bobby Henon, finding both men guilty on most of the charges they faced, and sending shockwaves across the city’s union and political worlds.

Dougherty has vowed to appeal the decision, but the conviction will cost him and Henon their jobs, and could send them to jail for up to 20 years for the most serious offense. Henon

In short, prosecutors convinced the jurors that Dougherty, who kept Henon on a $70,000-a-year salary at the union, had bought the powers of his City Council office.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors played a number of wiretapped phone calls between the councilmember and union boss, where the latter implored Henon to introduce legislation or hold up negotiations depending on his plans at the union and get leverage.

Before joining City Council, Henon had risen in the ranks of IBEW Local 98 first as an electrician, then steward, sub-foreman and foreman before being named by Dougherty to be the union’s political director. 

In 2011, he ran to replace retiring City Councilmember Joan Krajewski to represent District 6.

Despite the fraught ethical nature of Dougherty and Henon’s interactions, their defense attorneys argued them as par the course for how business gets done at City Hall. 

Philadelphia has a long history of backdoor deals and blatant corruption that has been a stain on the city’s governing body throughout its existence. The Dougherty-Henon chapter is just the latest rendition.

Silence is a reaction

In the aftermath of the verdicts, the Philadelphia Inquirer found very few City Councilmembers keen to talk about the effects of the convictions and what the future of the governing body would look like.

Council President Darrell Clarke released a brief statement that said “City Council has not been distracted by the trial, and remains focused on the urgent issues confronting our city.”

“While it is always difficult to learn of a guilty verdict on conspiracy charges of a member of this legislative body, the jury has spoken, and we respect its verdict," he also said.

The strongest voice to emerge from City Council in the aftermath of Henon and Dougherty’s convictions was Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez.

She’s long been a major critic of IBEW Local 98, and has criticized Henon for continuing to sit on City Council while facing federal charges. 

Her main gripe has always been Henon’s $70,000-a-year union salary in addition to his $140,000-a-year City Council pay.

Following Henon’s conviction, Quiñones-Sánchez released a statement calling for a ban on outside employment for City Councilmembers. She also called for Henon’s immediate resignation.

“The potential for the appearance of conflict of interest is simply too strong and erodes the public trust,” she said. “There can be no disputing that outside employment has the potential to compromise the integrity of our members.”

Quiñones-Sánchez continued to point out that City Council has a “generous salary” in “the poorest big city in America.”

“Certainly, our legislative duties deserve our full attention,” she said.

Henon’s office released a statement in lieu of his conviction, guaranteeing services would remain available for the community going forward. He does not have to step down from his position on City Council until his sentencing, which will come in February 2022.

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