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Mayor Jim Kenney defends convicted labor leader John Dougherty and Councilmember Bobby Henon

The mayor said that Dougherty, whose electricians union was a key part of Kenney’s victory in the 2015 mayoral race, never crossed legal or ethical lines with him.

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks about the convictions of labor leader John J. Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon.
Mayor Jim Kenney speaks about the convictions of labor leader John J. Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Mayor Jim Kenney on Tuesday defended labor leader John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon in the wake of their convictions on federal corruption charges, declining to say whether he believed the men were guilty and predicting that not much will change in City Hall in light of the scandal.

“I have my own opinion, which I won’t express. You don’t need my opinion. My opinion’s not important in this,” Kenney said in his first public comments since a jury on Monday convicted Dougherty and Henon of bribery, honest services fraud, and other charges. “I feel bad for them. I feel bad for their families. I feel bad for the fact that they work really hard in bringing a lot of good things to the city.”

Kenney, who won the 2015 mayoral race with significant support from Dougherty’s union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, said the labor leader served the electricians well.

“He represented his union, represented his members, represented the building trades, and he did so very well,” Kenney said, speaking to reporters after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new OceanFirst Bank branch near City Hall. “We moved on from other scandals in the past. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. People have been convicted before, and the city moves on.”

» READ MORE: John Dougherty and Bobby Henon are on trial. But City Hall is watching nervously.

Kenney declined to say whether Henon — whom the mayor described as “one of the hardest-working Council members I’ve known” — should resign immediately or wait until he is legally required to, after being sentenced in February.

Henon served as Local 98′s political director before being elected, and continued to receive a $70,000 union salary after joining Council. That salary was a centerpiece of the prosecution, with the government alleging that it amounted to a bribe for Henon to do Dougherty’s bidding.

Kenney, however, questioned why other special interests outside of organized labor — such as corporate lobbyists and lawyers who serve on Council — don’t appear to receive as much public scrutiny. He noted that when he was a Council member, he had side jobs but said that with those he “never crossed the line” into corruption. (As a lawmaker, Kenney disclosed receiving outside income from an architectural firm and from Independence Blue Cross as a lawmaker, but he left those jobs before taking office as mayor in 2016.)

“Do you think that every major corporation in this city and in this region doesn’t influence on a legislative body? That’s naive to think that that’s not the case,” Kenney said. “So, yeah, does organized labor have the right to lobby for their issues? Absolutely. So does the banking industry, so does cable TV, so do restaurant people.”

» READ MORE: Testifying in John Dougherty’s trial, Deputy Mayor Richard Lazer describes close ties to the labor leader

Kenney said that Dougherty never crossed legal or ethical boundaries with him.

“My conversations with [Dougherty] were the same as every other government person or people involved in government,” Kenney said. “He never asked me to do anything wrong. I wouldn’t have done it anyway.”

Dougherty played a key role in helping to pass Kenney’s signature legislative accomplishment, a tax on sugary beverages that funds pre-K, community schools, and improvements to rec centers and playgrounds. Despite Dougherty’s involvement in his election and the success of his agenda, Kenney said the convictions would not affect his legacy as mayor.

“We wouldn’t have pre-K” without the influence of Dougherty and the electricians’ union, Kenney said. “I got 10,000 kids going through pre-K because we had a beverage tax passed that they helped with. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Local 98 helped fund an independent expenditure political action committee that spent $1.8 million boosting Kenney in 2015.

The mayor said that he had not spoken to Dougherty since the verdict but plans to do so soon.

Asked what he will say to Dougherty, Kenney responded: “None of your business. How’s that?”

Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.