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Philadelphia City Council gets a leadership shakeup, with Cherelle Parker beating Bobby Henon as majority leader

The leadership election was the sharpest rebuke yet of Bobby Henon from his colleagues since he and other officials with the local electricians union were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges last year.

City Councilmember Cherelle Parker in March 2019.
City Councilmember Cherelle Parker in March 2019.Read moreANTHONY PEZZOTTI / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia City Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker on Monday unseated her Democratic colleague Bobby Henon as majority leader.

The leadership election, finalized during Monday’s inauguration ceremony, was the sharpest rebuke yet of Henon from his colleagues since he and other officials with the local Electricians union were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges last year.

Henon and other defendants with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, including its leader, John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The majority leader position comes with a pay raise — $9,000 on top of members’ $131,000 base salary — but has little direct power. The politics of leadership elections, however, often shape the dynamics of the ensuing Council session, with members trading future favors and forming alliances to win the posts.

Parker is also seen as a potential candidate for mayor in 2023, at the end of Mayor Jim Kenney’s second term. She declined on Monday to say why she ran against Henon, emphasizing Council’s unity going forward.

“We work together, and it’s not something that we talk about a lot,” Parker said. “It’s very much an internal process but I look forward to working with all of my colleagues.”

Henon also didn’t say much about the results. “Internal process,” he said. “Looking forward to the next four years.”

Council President Darrell L. Clarke faced no opposition in his bid for a third term in the body’s top post.

Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. was elected majority whip and Mark Squilla deputy majority whip. They replaced Bill Greenlee and Blondell Reynolds Brown, both of whom declined to seek reelection last year.

The majority leader race came down to the wire, with Henon and Parker each having won the support of six of their colleagues in the 14-member Democratic caucus as late as Friday. The winds shifted in Parker’s direction over the weekend, when freshman Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who had not committed to a candidate but was believed to be with Henon, signed on to her candidacy.

Thomas’ decision meant that all three incoming Democrats supported Parker over Henon. The others are Jamie Gauthier and Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

Gauthier said the indictment factored into her vote.

“I didn’t want to vote for someone for leadership that had that level of baggage,” Gauthier said. “Personally, Councilman Henon is a great person. But in making that decision for leadership, the person needs to be able to focus and needs to be able to lead without being caught up.”

Kenney did not get involved in the leadership elections, lawmakers said. The race between Henon and Parker pitted two of the constituencies most important to Kenney’s 2015 victory against each other: the building trades unions and the Northwest Coalition, the powerful political organization from which Parker hails.

The unseating of Henon was a victory for Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who has clashed with Local 98 and was an early proponent of replacing Henon as majority leader following the indictment.

“City Council has a leadership team that reflects the electoral mandate of 2019,” Quiñones-Sánchez said Monday.

No minority leader was named. The only non-Democrats on Council are Republicans David Oh and Brian O’Neill, the most recent minority leader, and Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party, who unseated a Republican to win a historic third-party victory in November. Brooks is the first Council member from outside the two major parties in the 100 years since the body adopted a modern legislative structure.

Oh, who has clashed with the city’s GOP establishment, said after the election that he would not support O’Neill for the leadership post and did not want it himself, meaning none of the three non-Democrats was willing to vote for another.

O’Neill said he believed that the leadership posts of minority leader and whip were becoming obsolete even before Brooks’ election.

“I mean, we had three Republicans, and we had two [leadership] officers out of the three,” O’Neill said. “I don’t really have a problem with it.”