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Move to honor 'Porngate' prosecutor ignites Council

Two years after the discovery of pornographic emails rocked the state Attorney General's Office, a member of City Council on Thursday introduced a resolution to honor one of the lawyers implicated.

Councilman David Oh said he hoped to "help clear" the name of Patrick Blessington, who received but never sent any of the offensive emails.

His colleagues were not interested in offering absolution.

And Oh's timing — he circulated the resolution on Wednesday, International Women's Day — struck some as tone deaf, if not offensive. The move brought at least one female Council employee to tears and prompted several more to make direct pleas to their male bosses to vote it down.

Council did just that, after a rare display in which six Council members made speeches decrying the resolution. It failed by a vote of 15-2, with only Oh and his Republican colleague Brian O'Neill voting in support.

"Men simply cannot remain silent or passive when faced with such emails," Councilwoman Helen Gym said. "They have to speak up. People have to push back. Otherwise these behaviors persist, as they persisted in the state as long as they did. And they are being tacitly endorsed by those who stayed silent."

Blessington, reached at his office, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, for which he works.

Oh said he has known Blessington since the two worked together at the District Attorney's Office in the late 1980s.

In 1997, Blessington went on to work for the Attorney General's Office, where he won a string of murder convictions and was a key prosecutor in the wave of corruption cases involving the state legislature. While there, he received 39 offensive emails in 2008 and 2009, some which contained images of naked women and crude jokes that played on racial or gender stereotypes.

Former Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane singled out Blessington and seven others for emails they had either received or sent. Her successor, Bruce Beemer, in 2016 issued a report showing hundreds of government workers had received the emails, including more than 350 in Kane's agency.

Of the eight who had been named, Blessington received among the fewest. He never sent any of the emails.

Oh's resolution reads that accusations against Blessington were "proven false."

Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who in 2015 introduced a resolution passed by Council asking for Blessington and two other lawyers to be fired, said a new resolution would not clear Blessington's name.

"Either you're going to be on the right side of history or you're going to be on the wrong side of history," she said. "And by not speaking up, I believe that [Blessington] chose to be on the wrong side of history."

Oh's resolution sparked widespread anger when it was circulated Wednesday. Samantha Williams, legislative counsel for Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., worked in the District Attorney's Office when the emails were uncovered. She called it a difficult time, during which female employees had to reconcile working alongside the implicated lawyers.

She said seeing a draft of the resolution brought her to tears and was also upsetting to other female employees.

"On the day that we were celebrating each other, we realized that tomorrow there was going to be a resolution to praise someone who didn't stand up for us when he had the opportunity," she said.

Her boss, asked about the resolution, feigned a faint, falling back into the wall behind him.

"Why?" he asked. "Why?"

On the Council floor after the resolution was introduced, Jones was one of several Council members who took the microphone over nearly 20 minutes to speak against the resolution or the actions of those involved in the scandal. More than once, Oh got back on the microphone in defense.

He called it unfair for Blessington to be singled out and said he is not the "person that he has been painted out to be."

Asked about the timing of the resolution, Oh said he had not intended for it to coincide with a day meant to honor women.

"It was my birthday," Oh said. "That's what I remember about yesterday."

Staff writer Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.