A day after his conviction on bribery charges, City Councilmember Bobby Henon said he plans to wait until his February sentencing to resign from the Council seat he has held for a decade.
In his first interview since conviction, the three-term lawmaker said he wouldn’t rule out an early departure if he could guarantee a smooth transition of services for his constituents. But for now, he plans to keep steering his Northeast Philadelphia district until his sentencing — as permitted under Pennsylvania state law.
“My intention at this time is to continue to serve until I see that there is a transition plan in place that I can feel comfortable with,” Henon said. “There’s going to be somebody after me. My office is going to be critical in providing services for whoever that may be.”
Henon largely remained silent through his six-week federal trial, taking notes in court as prosecutors accused him of accepting a bribe from labor leader John Dougherty in the form of a more than $70,000-a-year union salary.
In exchange, prosecutors said, Henon routinely used his Council vote and the powers of his office to advance Dougherty’s personal and professional interests. A federal jury convicted both men Monday on counts of conspiracy and honest services fraud, and Henon of federal program bribery. Henon’s highest charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Henon expressed dismay with the verdict and said he and his family were struggling with next steps. He and his lawyers maintain that the prosecution sought to criminalize the legislative process and depict a powerful labor union as different than other interest groups who lobby lawmakers.
“What did you learn? I don’t know if you learned much other than that people were unaware how sausage gets made,” Henon said. “All that is involved with stakeholders and interest groups and communities and nonprofits, everybody plays a role in creating policies — and they should.”
Henon — one of several councilmembers to hold outside employment — also maintained his union salary did not influence his decision-making. “What I did would have never changed,” he said.
Henon declined to comment on his appeal plans and referred comment to his attorneys.
Dougherty on Tuesday announced plans to step down as business manager of Local 98 and as the leader of the Building Trades Council, an umbrella organization for the city’s trade unions. Federal law prohibits people convicted of serious crimes to serve in any union role for 13 years after their conviction or after the end of their imprisonment.
Henon, meanwhile, is rebuffing calls for an immediate resignation from a handful of lawmakers and good-government groups. State law bars people convicted of felonies from holding public office, but that prohibition doesn’t take effect until sentencing, so Henon can continue to collect his about $140,000-a-year city salary until then.
“With a conviction there should be a resignation,” said Khalif Ali, executive director of the nonpartisan group Common Cause Pennsylvania. “It should be voluntary.”
As the first councilmember to work with a corruption-related conviction in 15 years, Henon now faces other hurdles in his job over the next few months.
Asked if his vote on coming bills would taint the legislative process, he said he is “in talks” with City Council President Darrell Clarke. Clarke’s office referred to the state law that allows convicted members to perform their duties until sentencing.
Henon has not appeared publicly in council since his conviction, missing an environment committee Tuesday and an appropriations committee meeting on Wednesday morning.
Elected in 2011, Henon has represented his district, which covers parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Port Richmond, for three terms.
He served a stint as majority leader on Council and as head of the committee for the Department of Licenses and Inspections, earning a reputation as a gatekeeper for his constituents’ concerns around development and for legislation about the construction industry.
What’s next for Henon’s district
Henon emphasized that the Council office would continue to run and provide constituent services. He said he would also ensure a smooth transition to his successor, who will be chosen through a special election.
When a Council seat becomes vacant, the Philadelphia Home Rule charter stipulates that the Council president must call for a special election more than 30 days out.
The election would not follow the usual procedure, where Democrats and Republicans vote in a primary to elect who will represent their party in a general election. Instead, committee people and ward leaders vote for their party’s nominee behind closed doors.
According to the charter, the Council president may set the specific date for the special election, or group it onto the date of the next primary or general election. It remained unclear Tuesday what Clarke will do.
“It’s premature for us to comment further at this time,” said Clarke spokesperson Joe Grace.
Democratic Party chairman and former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady said he would wait until Henon’s resignation before meeting with ward leaders and committee people.
Henon, who is also the Democratic leader of the 65th Ward, said it was “premature” to decide how he would handle stepping down from that post. Brady said he would ask Henon to resign from the position at sentencing.
Due to the Democratic voter edge in Henon’s district, the Democratic nominee is a likely shoe-in for his Council seat.
The power vacuum has created a Hunger Games-esque frenzy among Northeast Philly politicos — some of whom have been privately speculating for months about who would replace Henon in the event of a guilty verdict.
In the hours after his conviction, a trio of names began floating around Northeast Philly’s political circles: State Rep. Mike Driscoll was named as a front-runner, and City Commissioner Lisa Deeley’s name has also been mentioned, as has State Rep. Ed Neilson, who previously held an at-large seat on Council.
Driscoll did not return a request for comment. Neilson said he was not in the running, noting that he does not live in the 6th District. Deeley, through a spokesperson, said she was devastated by her friend Henon’s conviction and did not wish to discuss the matter.
“As far as she is concerned the 6th District still has a councilman and the residents are lucky to have him for as long as they can,” said Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio. “She asks that people please stop calling her about it.”
Staff writers Jeremy Roebuck and Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.