Over a month ago, Bobby Henon, councilman for the 6th District, was charged with conspiracy, bribery, and fraud in a federal indictment that also charged seven others, including IBEW 98 head John Dougherty, for a total of 116 counts. Henon was accused, among other things, of using his Council seat to strong-arm a repair job at the Children’s Hospital at Penn on behalf of IBEW 98, which also pays him a salary.
Last week, the filing deadline for May’s primary election came and went. Bobby Henon has no challenger.
In other cheerful news, three former Traffic Court judges announced last month that they were also throwing their hat into the ring for a Council seat. Not long ago, all three finished serving time in prison on various ticket-fixing charges, a scandal that went so deep that the court itself was eliminated. (At least one has dropped out.)
On the Republican side, party-endorsed mayoral candidate Daphne Goggins dropped out of the race the day before the deadline for nominating petitions. Her fitness for office was a question, especially after she revealed that federal disability payments she has been receiving were related to anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder that emerged after she gave up cocaine in 2005. The Republican Party voted to endorse her twice.
There are stories like these every election season. They are symptoms of a disease not exclusive to Philadelphia, but one we suffer acutely. At its root are two calcified political party machines devoted to their own survival over ensuring vital and healthy political debates and elections.
The Henon example is particularly telling. Henon has proclaimed his innocence and has every right to fight to keep his seat. But no one thought there was a chance to win against the entrenched party machine, which has kept silent on the indictment. No one thought they had a chance against a candidate surrounded by questions and scandal because of the monolithic power of a few party leaders. That’s not democracy. That’s tyranny. And it holds this city back from long-term and meaningful progress.
This season, there is reason for optimism. A high number of candidates for City Council have filed to run. At least 34 candidates have emerged for seven at-large seats, and a similar number for district races. They include young candidates, and candidates devoted to reform and to overcoming the party structure. Voters should pay close attention to these candidates, though the number is daunting.