Mayor Jim Kenney and his predecessor Michael A. Nutter. Comcast and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Parking Authority and the Department of Licenses & Inspections.
All of these bold-faced names and Philadelphia institutions were mentioned Tuesday in the opening arguments of the federal corruption trial centered on the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
The defendants in the case are union leader John J. Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon. But in some ways, Philadelphia’s political ecosystem is on trial as well.
Based on the opening statements, jurors are expected to hear evidence illuminating the petty rivalries and favor-trading that occur behind the scenes of some major moments for the city, such as the passage of the mayor’s signature legislative accomplishment, as well as more mundane matters of government, like the politics of rewriting the plumbing code.
During jury selection Monday, prosecutors read potential jurors a list of names of people who might be mentioned or get called as witnesses in the case. Beyond Kenney and Nutter, the list included Council President Darrell L. Clarke; Councilmembers Brian O’Neill and Helen Gym; former Councilmember Ed Neilson; and Lisa Deeley, chair of the City Commissioners. It also included labor and business leaders, such as Pat Gillespie, Dougherty’s predecessor as leader of the Building Trades Council; and Kathleen Sullivan, a former city representative and Comcast executive.
Neither the judge nor lawyers have disclosed why, how, or when jurors will learn about those people. Others, however, appear bound to play central roles.
Here’s how some key Philly political players could be featured or discussed as the trial unfolds over the next month or so:
Mayor Jim Kenney
A staunch labor supporter, Kenney won the mayoral election in 2015 with significant support from the political action committees Dougherty controls, and the two remain in close contact.
There’s been no indication that Kenney will be called to testify. But Dougherty’s phone was wiretapped during the investigation, and on the first day of testimony, jurors were played a 2015 call between Dougherty and Kenney.
In the call, which took place before Kenney took office but after it was clear he had won the election, Dougherty let the future mayor know he was working to delay the enactment of a new city plumbing code. Prosecutors contend Dougherty wanted Henon to introduce and then delay the code legislation to gain leverage over the plumbers in an election to lead the Building Trades Council.
“Is there something you need me to do?” Kenney asked about the code issue.
“No,” Dougherty replied, clarifying that Henon was working on it but letting Kenney know that the plan was to delay.
A major issue in the trial will be Dougherty’s support for Kenney’s tax on sugary beverages. Prosecutors say Dougherty pushed Henon to advance the legislation because it would be detrimental to a rival union, the Teamsters, whom Dougherty allegedly targeted for airing an ad that portrayed him in a negative light during the 2015 election.
“They’re going to start to put a tax on soda again, and that will cost the Teamsters 100 jobs in Philly,” Dougherty told another union official at the time, according to prosecutors.
Kenney has said that the idea to pursue a soda tax came from city Finance Director Rob Dubow, not Dougherty.
Lazer is Kenney’s deputy mayor for labor, and he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018 with significant help from the electricians’ union. His wife has worked for the union.
A phone call between Lazer and Dougherty was the first to be played for jurors Tuesday. The conversation, also about the plumbing code, occurred in the same window as the Kenney call, while Lazer was working for Kenney’s campaign before joining the incoming administration.
At one point in his call with Kenney, Dougherty asked about getting two people police jobs with the Delaware River Port Authority, and Kenney tells him to reach out to Lazer, whom he jokingly called my “employment specialist.”
Ashdale, the business manager for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 21, was chair of the parking authority board during the time of Henon and Dougherty’s alleged crimes.
Prosecutors contend that Ashdale bribed Henon to help defeat a proposal by City Councilmember David Oh to audit the PPA.
Voss is Henon’s chief of staff, and prosecutors said Tuesday that they had an affair. That’s relevant because the government is attempting to prove that Henon took an official action — opposing an audit of the PPA at the request of Ashdale — in exchange for Ashdale, whose union includes glass workers, arranging for Voss to receive free windows to be installed at her home.
Henon’s attorney said that he will prove during the trial that the windows were not free, and he noted that Ashdale was never charged with bribery.
Carlton Williams, now the city’s streets commissioner, led the Department of Licenses & Inspections at the time of the incidents involved in the case.
It’s unclear if that’s his tie to the case, but prosecutors say Henon pressed L&I to investigate whether unlicensed electricians were working on a project to install MRI machines at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Prosecutors say Henon was acting at Dougherty’s behest. Henon’s attorney, however, said Tuesday that it was appropriate for the councilmember to make the call and that he didn’t press for a particular outcome of the investigation.
Keep up with every development in John Dougherty and Bobby Henon’s case with our day-by-day recaps, live coverage, and explainer on everything you need to know about the case.