Northeast Philly residents are dealing with tainted representation in City Hall after the federal indictment of their councilperson.
On the day District 6 City Councilman Bobby Henon pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges in federal court, the reactions from his constituents were varied. Some were angry. Some were shocked, but hopeful that Henon might actually be innocent.
Some said they saw this coming all along.
Joe Nicoletti is the president of the Tacony Holmesburg Townwatch. He was rattled when he heard about the indictment on Wednesday afternoon.
Nicoletti has worked with Henon closely over the years, and he said the Councilman has always been a positive force in the community — he’s helped secure event space and cash from the Activities Fund for town watch operations.
“He’s been very helpful to us in the community, there’s no doubt about it,” Nicoletti said. “When I saw this, I was like, damn it, what’s going to happen now? We’re concerned.”
Federal prosecutors released the 153-page indictment on Wednesday, levying charges against the councilman. They allege he took bribes from Local 98 leader John Dougherty, and robbed his Northeast Philadelphia constituents of their right to honest work from an elected official.
Now out on $50,000 bail, Henon faces potential decades in prison.
District 6 includes parts of several different neighborhoods — a bit of Frankford at the south end, then Mayfair, Bridesburg, Holmesburg and Tacony. It hugs 95 and the El for a few miles. It’s long been a working class district, with small businesses making ends meet along Frankford and Torresdale avenues.
“I hope the allegations aren’t true,” Nicoletti added. “It would be disappointing if it did come out that it was true.”
Dawn Stinger, a 48-year-old cashier at Paganos Steaks & Hoagies on Torresdale Avenue, doesn’t feel quite so warm and fuzzy about her councilperson. She takes the charges seriously — and personally.
“I think it’s insane,” she said. “There’s so much underhanded shit being done, but I’m out here working for minimum wage. You’re taking all this money going here and there to lavish parties. It’s so unfair.”
Ever since the news broke on Wednesday, Stinger said the indictment has been a hot topic of conversation among her neighbors. Her block captain brought it up Wednesday evening at a neighborhood gathering.
And before she came into work on Thursday afternoon, Stinger was glued to the TV, watching Henon plead not guilty to the charges.
“Pretty much everybody’s talking about it,” she said. “This neighborhood has gone down the last couple years… and he’s really not helping us out.”
“He’s a crook,” offered a patron of the Frankford Avenue McKenna’s Bar, who spoke on the condition of anonymity Thursday afternoon. “From day one you could see it. It’s just common sense.”
The bar-goer added: “He came in here one day and he said, ‘Are you voting for me?’ I said, ‘No. I don’t like you.’”
So everybody’s talking about it… except for Eric Simms, an 18-year-old employee of the Dunkin Donuts at Aramingo and Torresdale avenues. He hadn’t heard about the indictment — in fact, he had never even heard Henon’s name before.
“I hadn’t known about it,” he said. “That kind of sucks. There’s a lot of things going on that we could’ve used that money for.”
In general, Simms said he has little faith in his elected officials — that includes Philly’s local government. He felt some sense of justice Thursday afternoon knowing that a politician might be held accountable.
“I don’t want to say he deserves what he gets,” Simms added, “but karma comes around unexpectedly, so I think that’s what happened.”
Meanwhile, Nicoletti hopes the district constituents reserve their judgment for after the trial’s verdict.
“Let him have his day in court,” he said. “An indictment is just an allegation, it doesn’t mean you’re guilty. So let’s all calm down.”