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Convicted Councilmember Bobby Henon resigns from City Council a month before federal sentencing

The three-term lawmaker, who has presided over his Northeast Philadelphia district since 2012, said after his November conviction that he would hold onto his seat until his sentencing in February.

Bobby Henon, seen through the glass window at federal court during his trial in October. Henon officially announced his resignation Thursday from his City Council seat.
Bobby Henon, seen through the glass window at federal court during his trial in October. Henon officially announced his resignation Thursday from his City Council seat.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Two months after a federal jury convicted him on a slew of corruption charges, City Councilmember Bobby Henon resigned Thursday from public office, ending a political career that saw Henon and his electricians union allies gain extraordinary influence in City Hall and collapsed in a scandal that shook the local labor movement and left a power vacuum in city politics.

The three-term Democratic lawmaker, who has presided over his Northeast Philadelphia district since 2012, said after his November conviction that he would hold on to his seat until he was legally required to step down at his sentencing Feb. 22.

» READ MORE: Bobby Henon has resigned from City Council. What happens next for his Northeast Philly district?

In a statement, Henon said that he submitted his resignation, effective 8 a.m. Thursday, to Council President Darrell L. Clarke that morning.

“I am grateful to the residents of the 6th District for allowing me to serve as Councilman for the past 10 years,” he said in the statement. “I worked hard each and every day to be an outspoken and bold advocate for the hardworking people.”

Henon’s resignation came two hours before Council held its first meeting of the year and set off a flurry of discussions about his replacement, who will effectively be selected by Democratic ward leaders in his district due to Philadelphia’s rules for filling vacancies.

A federal jury convicted Henon and labor leader John J. Dougherty on counts of conspiracy and honest services fraud, and Henon of federal program bribery.

» READ MORE: John Dougherty and Bobby Henon found guilty at federal bribery trial, upending city politics and organized labor

The panel found that Henon had effectively sold his Council vote to Dougherty, the former leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Henon was Local 98′s political director before running for Council in 2011, and he continued to be paid by the union after taking office.

A jury convicted him of using the powers of his office to advance Dougherty’s personal and political interests in exchange for a $70,000-a-year salary. Henon’s highest charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Because his crimes were related to his public office, Henon is likely to be stripped of his city pension. A city spokesperson said the Board of Pensions is expected to take up the issue at its Jan. 27 meeting.

Henon did not respond to interview requests on his decision or its timing.

“He’s under an obligation to resign legally,” his lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, said. “He’s spent the last couple of months trying to get things in order in his office. But, legally, he needed to resign by his sentencing date.”

While state law does not require a convicted public official to resign until sentencing, doing so beforehand is often viewed favorably by judges when it comes to handing down punishment in public corruption cases.

» READ MORE: A Philadelphia politician Hall of Shame

Despite Henon’s decision to give up his seat early, he has continued to maintain his innocence and has vowed to appeal his conviction. Meanwhile, he and Dougherty have pressed the judge who oversaw their trial to throw out the jury’s verdict. Those requests are still awaiting a ruling from the court.

Hours after his resignation Thursday, his office in City Hall was closed, and a sign bearing his name had been removed. An employee of the Council president’s office, who appeared to be stationed outside the shuttered office, shooed passersby away. He said Henon’s office is no longer open to the public.

Henon’s staff will continue working out of the district office on Torresdale Avenue to provide constituent services, with the Council president providing some oversight in Henon’s absence.

» READ MORE: ‘It’s been enormously difficult’: How Bobby Henon’s staff has run his office through a corruption trial

According to the city Home Rule Charter, his successor will be chosen through a special election on a date set by Clarke, who may call for a standalone special election or add the race to the May primary ballot.

Clarke did not immediately commit to setting a date. “I will take the appropriate steps authorized under the Home Rule Charter regarding this vacancy in Council in due course and in full accordance with city law,” he said in a statement. “It is important that the people of the 6th District have representation in City Council.”

Ward leaders from the district select their parties’ nominees for the special election, and, given the area’s heavily Democratic tilt, the candidate tapped by Democratic ward leaders is all but guaranteed to take the seat.

» READ MORE: A juror in the Dougherty-Henon trial says it was a lesson in Philly government — ‘and it was appalling’

The odds-on favorite to replace Henon is State Rep. Mike Driscoll (D., Phila.).

“I think there’s a sense of inevitability [about Driscoll] among the ward leaders,” said former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, one of the ward leaders in the district.

In an interview, Driscoll said that he’s still currently seeking reelection in the 173rd House District, but would accept the Council nomination if the ward leaders choose to back him. “I’d be honored if I get selected, but that’s not my decision,” he said.

Other candidates may yet try to woo the ward leaders.

Butkovitz said potential additions include Nick Denofa, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Another is ward leader Pete McDermott, a teacher, who Butkovitz said has talked to him about running for the seat. Whoever ends up replacing Henon will have to defend the seat in less than a year, as Council members are all up for reelection in 2023.

Denofa and McDermott did not immediately respond to attempts to reach them Thursday.

Clarke added that Council would “not be distracted by” Henon’s open seat as lawmakers returned from their winter break this week.

Mayor Jim Kenney, who defended Henon in the wake of his conviction, issued a statement saying Henon made “the right decision” to step down this week.

“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,” said Kenney, whose election to the mayor’s office received critical support from the electricians union. “He has been a consistent, strong advocate for the working families of Philadelphia throughout his ten years of service on City Council.”

Henon’s legal defense fund scheduled a fund-raiser for Thursday night at Canstatter in Northeast Philadelphia, with tickets ranging from the $250 “bronze” level to $2,500 for “platinum.”

Comedian and radio personality Joe Conklin, who was already scheduled for a Thursday night show at Parx Casino in Bensalem, agreed to make an appearance at Henon’s 6 p.m. fund-raiser at the request of a ward leader.

“It’s early enough, so I can at least do a quick set,” said Conklin, who added that he’s known Henon for about 20 years.

In his resignation letter, Henon included a bullet-point list of accomplishments over the last decade, from opening the first satellite office in his district to providing emergency supplies like food and diapers to local families throughout the pandemic.

The afternoon before his resignation, he attended a news conference with officials from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to announce $880,000 in new funding for two parks in his district.

It looked like a typical day in the life of a Council member, championing what Henon described as “vital resources that help families thrive and bring communities together.”

But the event may also prove to be his swan song to public service.

Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed reporting.