By Jack Tomczuk
Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon was ousted as majority leader in favor of Councilwoman Cherelle Parker during Monday’s inauguration at the Met Philadelphia.
It’s widely believed the change stemmed from a federal indictment handed down nearly a year ago that led to corruption charges against Henon, electricians’ union boss John Dougherty and others.
Henon, who lives in East Torresdale, downplayed the decision, made by his fellow council members, and said he will still have a significant role to play.
“My job as a councilman is to ensure accountability for the city departments and making sure that we have our budgets to make Northeast proud and make every Philadelphian feel safe, want to live here, stay here and work here,” he told the Times. “None of that will change.”
Henon was picked as majority leader four years ago.
Parker, whose Northwest Philly-based Ninth District district also includes Lawncrest, Burholme and parts of Oxford Circle, is considered to be a strong contender to succeed Mayor Jim Kenney.
On Twitter, Parker said she is “extremely humbled and honored” to be chosen for the role.
Fifth District Councilman Darrell Clarke retained his position as council president.
Councilman Brian O’Neill, of the 10th District, is beginning his 11th four-year term, but he quickly squashed rumblings that it could be his last.
“If you’re thinking about retiring, you should retire,” he said following the inauguration. “I’m not thinking about it.”
O’Neill said he plans to continue to focus on zoning and quality-of-life issues. There’s no reason to try a new approach, he added.
Henon said he wants to give residents more of a say in the zoning process and continue to fully fund the police and fire departments. In addition, he wants to try to bring more business to the city to keep property taxes at a reasonable rate.
He will also likely have to deal with ongoing questions about the indictment. The case is scheduled for jury selection in September.
O’Neill has come under fire from some community leaders about his handling of a massive warehouse planned for the former Budd Company site, 1 Red Lion Road.
He has maintained that he has not been involved in negotiations surrounding the project. O’Neill told the Times it’s not possible to prevent the warehouse because it’s a legal use on an industrial property.
“I think it has been blown out of proportion,” O’Neill said. “I’m not going to let anything hurt the Bustleton or Somerton communities, and I’m sure it won’t. But if it does, I’ll do what I have to do.”
Another large, and controversial, project has been simmering in Henon’s district.
The 64th Democratic Ward, led by Pete McDermott, last month appealed a zoning decision allowing for the construction of a 180,000-square-foot K-8 school behind Abraham Lincoln High School in Mayfair.
The litigation threatens a community benefits agreement between the School District of Philadelphia and Mayfair Civic Association, and attorneys for the district and its developer say it could even delay the school’s opening, scheduled for the start of the 2021 school year.
“My hope is that that appeal doesn’t delay any construction lending or any construction timeline,” Henon said, citing overcrowding at nearby schools.
McDermott, a career and technical education teacher for the district, worked part-time for Henon’s office in the summer, the councilman said.
“Everybody has the right to appeal,” he added. “Obviously, he felt strong enough to appeal the process for his community organization.”
The 64th Ward, in a post on its Facebook page, said it was appealing the Zoning Board of Adjustment ruling on the basis that the school’s developer and/or its attorneys didn’t do enough to alert neighbors about the project.
During his inaugural address, Kenney outlined his priorities for his second term. At the top of the list was curbing gun violence, which he said has had a personal effect on him as mayor.
“It’s no secret that the hardest part of this job for me has been addressing the senseless and unspeakable violence that happens on our streets every day,” Kenney said. “We are committed to reducing shootings and homicides and fighting for common-sense gun reform so these tragedies can end once and for all.”
Other priorities included increased investments in the school district, making the Community College of Philadelphia tuition-free for some students and improved street paving and conditions, including introducing street sweeping in every neighborhood.
Kenney also reiterated his support for the creation of drug injection sites.
Clarke and Kenney spoke of creating policies to lift 100,000 city residents out of poverty — which would effectively cut the city’s poverty rate by 25 percent. Clarke compared the effort to the collaboration needed to help put a man on the moon in the 1960s.
“This is our moonshot,” he said. “I am calling on everyone – the business community, our top universities and colleges, nonprofit organizations, city government and all our citizens – to work together to achieve this goal.”
City Council’s first legislative session will be Jan. 23. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.