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Henon stays silent on FBI searches

Hours after the FBI raided Bobby Henon's City Hall office, the councilman fired off a statement on Twitter.

City Councilman Bobby Henon’s one statement since the raids said he couldn’t discuss. It touted constituent services.
City Councilman Bobby Henon’s one statement since the raids said he couldn’t discuss. It touted constituent services.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Hours after the FBI raided Bobby Henon's City Hall office, the councilman fired off a statement on Twitter.

"Any seniors out there need a PA Senior Citizen Transit ID card?" he tweeted. "My office can help!"

In the three weeks since, it has been more of the same, a string of business-as-usual posts about community cleanup days and free financial-planning courses that belie the trouble Henon seems to be in with federal authorities.

The councilman has repeatedly refused to answer questions.

"My office has been and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement," Henon said in his only statement since the raid. "I am not able to discuss specifics, but I do want to remind folks that my offices are open and ready to serve the residents of the Sixth District and all Philadelphians."

The silence is only fueling speculation about Henon's political future, which has been on an upward trajectory some say Henon, 47, hopes will lead to the mayor's office.

After just one term, Henon in January was named Council's majority leader by his colleagues. He won't face voters again until 2019.

"The good news is he's got a number of years to weather this storm, if in fact he can weather it," said Ken Smukler, a longtime Philadelphia political strategist. "The bad news is that the storm looks nasty."

On Aug. 5, a team of FBI agents swarmed Henon's office, wearing blue-plastic gloves as they went through filing cabinets and desks over seven hours. They took more than a dozen boxes and a computer. Agents also visited Henon's district office on Torresdale Avenue.

It was part of a wider raid targeting the Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and its leader, John Dougherty, who is one of Henon's closest allies.

Then, on Tuesday, the FBI seized the computer of an agent at the state Attorney General's Office. Sources have identified that agent as Joe Ralston, who has ties to the union and who grew up around the corner from Henon in Wissinoming, in Northeast Philadelphia.

The warrant for the search, in part, sought any communications between Ralston and Henon, according to people familiar with the document. It also cited possible extortion by an unnamed public official.

Local 98 is the foundation of Henon's political network. He joined the union as a seasonal worker after growing tired of his community college classes, and rose through the ranks quickly, from apprentice to foreman to business agent. He gained a spot as Dougherty's right-hand man and became the union's political director in 1999.

He remains on the union's payroll in an untitled position that reports directly to Dougherty, making $71,711 last year, according to a federal report filed by the union. That is on top of the $138,890 he makes as a Council member.

As Henon maintains his silence, pressure is mounting. Philadelphia Magazine, for one, has given Henon a nearly daily beating, repeatedly emailing questions to his spokeswoman and writing about it when they go unanswered. Courtney Voss, Henon's chief of staff, recently hired an attorney to represent her in relation to the investigation.

Henon has been able to stay out of the spotlight in part because of timing. Council is on summer recess, so schedules are relatively light and there are no weekly meetings attended by the public and the press. Henon spent last week at the Shore with his family.

That will change Sept. 8, when Council is back in session and Henon will be back to the business of legislating. He gained a reputation in his first term for taking on challenging issues and getting things done.

David Glancey, a former head of the city's Democratic Party and the University of Pennsylvania's liaison to the city, said he didn't think that reputation would change. Glancey said Henon's colleagues will give him the benefit of the doubt while the investigation is ongoing.

"He's a man people have grown to respect," Glancey said, suggesting that Council colleagues will see recent events as "an aberration."

"Because I see an aberration, I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said.

But David Thornburgh, president of the government watchdog Committee of Seventy, noted that "there is no small measure of paranoia in the political world," which might hinder Henon's ability to do his job.

"When they see you, they think, 'I wonder what's going on with that FBI investigation,' " Thornburgh said. "And that can't be helpful."



Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect first name for Joe Ralston, the agent whose computer was seized.