When members of the City Council proposed an audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority in 2016 to determine whether it could be sending more money to the city’s cash-strapped schools, the agency’s then-chairman, Joseph Ashdale, made no secret of his opposition and the lengths he was willing to go to stop it.
“I want to see who … is going to [vote for it] and who’s not,” he told Councilmember Bobby Henon in a phone call recorded by the FBI shortly after the measure was introduced. “Because nobody [who does] is going to get a f— job out of here or a f — penny out of” the PPA.
The call, played for jurors in Henon’s ongoing federal bribery trial, came as prosecutors shifted their focus Tuesday to one of the last remaining official acts detailed in the indictment against the councilmember, who is accused of wielding the power of his office in exchange for payoffs.
In this instance, the government has alleged, Henon helped Ashdale, who has not been charged with a crime, rally the votes to squash the audit proposal in exchange for $3,000-worth of windows installed at the home of his chief-of-staff, Courtney Voss, with whom prosecutors have said the councilmember was romantically involved.
Calls played in court Tuesday left no question that once Councilmembers David Oh and Helen Gym introduced their audit proposal, Ashdale was irate and looking to Henon for help.
“They have no right,” he complained to Henon. “It’s a state agency. … She wants to do an audit and come out and say, ‘There’s waste here, let’s give it to the School District.’ Get the [expletive] out, you know?”
And in several calls where they discussed the upcoming vote, Henon asked Ashdale — who in addition to his work at the PPA is the head of the union representing glazier’s and glass fitters — about sourcing and installing new windows at Voss’ Northeast Philadelphia home.
Prosecutors maintain that those two conversations were intrinsically linked with Henon’s seeking the windows from Ashdale in exchange for his assistance.
But the defense maintains that the two shared a friendship dating back decades and it was only coincidence that talk of each man’s request of the other often occurred on the same recorded calls. And Henon, they’ve argued, was hardly the only member of Council looking to vote down the audit resolution.
The PPA, under state law, is required to devote a portion of its revenue to supporting Philadelphia schools. And after a 50-cent-per-hour parking rate hike failed to deliver promised revenue increases, Oh and Gym believed a performance audit could unearth inefficiencies.
Ashdale and Oh, both Republicans, had run afoul of each other when the PPA chair had backed another candidate for Oh’s seat in an earlier election.
He told Henon, a Democrat, he believed Oh was now trying to extract retribution.
Calls played in court showed other members of Council — including Council President Darrell L. Clarke — suspected similar motivations and weren’t eager to get involved in internal GOP squabbling.
Yet they feared that publicly voting against an audit to root out waste and help underfunded schools could look bad to voters.
“If we did knock it down, it’s going to be, ‘Y’all … are protecting the Parking Authority,” Clarke groused to Henon in a June 2016 call. “That’s how it’s going to come off.”
Clarke proposed tabling the proposal in hopes it would go away, though he privately acknowledged there was likely some merit to the idea that the PPA had financial issues. But he added, “They’re our guys. We look the other way.”
Henon expressed concern about how he could publicly justify a vote against the audit, and in another call played for jurors, turned to his codefendant, labor leader John Dougherty, for advice.
Dougherty, who prosecutors allege was bribing Henon at the time with a more than $70,000-a-year union salary, urged Henon to go along with Clarke’s plan to table the proposal but to blame the Council president for that decision when he explained it to Ashdale, who was adamant he didn’t want the measure just tabled but definitively killed by a straight up-or-down Council vote.
In the days that followed, Council voted, as predicted, to table the measure. The next day, Henon and Ashdale continued discussing the work the councilmember wanted done at Voss’ home.
Ashdale told Henon he’d make sure she got the panes of new window glass for free. She’d only have to pay labor costs.
“Just tell her,” Ashdale instructed, “to sit back and enjoy the show.”
‘Feeling the brotherly love’
Earlier in the day, jurors also heard from yet another lead negotiator for Comcast involved in the company’s 2015 franchise renewal with the city.
Mark Reilly, a senior vice president for government affairs at the cable giant, recounted a December 2015 meeting in Henon’s office in which he and fellow Comcast executive, Kathleen Sullivan, who testified earlier in the trial, were presented with demands from Dougherty that the company steer more work in the direction of union contractors.
Like Sullivan before him, Reilly testified that he walked away from that session with the impression that if they didn’t cave to Dougherty’s requests, the franchise agreement — which governs the terms under which the city allows Comcast to build out and maintain its fiber optic cable network on publicly owned land — would not pass City Council.
“Over an hour of [expletive] from Johnnie [sic] Doc. Either we agree that all commercial business goes to the unions or he stops the [franchise] renewal,” wrote Reilly, who is based in New Hampshire, in an email describing the meeting to his superiors. “I am feeling the brotherly love.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Henon, the member of Council who was overseeing the franchise renewal process, improperly allowed Dougherty to inject himself into the process and use the threat of Council’s voting down the deal as leverage for the labor leader to strike a side deal with Comcast that was beneficial to his union.
But the defense maintains that Dougherty was legitimately looking out for union interests, which were important to city leaders — most notably Henon, an unabashedly pro-union elected official.
They pushed Reilly to admit on cross-examination that no matter the impression he may have had about his meeting with Dougherty, no one explicitly linked the labor leader’s requests with the City Council’s vote on the franchise deal.
“There wasn’t, to my recollection, an explicit statement to me that the renewal won’t happen,” the Comcast executive said.
And if anyone at Comcast felt that Dougherty or Henon had tried to pressure or intimidate them, they certainly didn’t act like it in public, Henon’s attorney Brian McMonagle argued.
He shared photos with the jury of a party held at Center City’s Fergie’s Pub after Council unanimously approved Comcast’s franchise renewal. Henon, Reilly, Sullivan and other staffers were all there, smiling and posing for photos together.
In one, Henon and Reilly stood shoulder to shoulder, beaming.
“There’s,” McMonagle quipped, “a little bit of brotherly love there, right?”
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