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Updated 11:00 a.m.
Advice for aspiring Philly politicians: The internet never forgets. Just ask the ill-fated Democratic candidate for City Council in 2015 who compared gay men to tapeworms, or the ex-GOP state official who recently likened black NFL players to baboons.
Or ask Republican ward leader Bill Heeney Sr., who announced his candidacy for City Council At-Large at the FOP Lodge 5 last week.
Billy Penn obtained screenshots of posts from Heeney’s now-inaccessible Facebook account in which the Northeast Philly businessman made comments and shared material that even sitting Republican leaders called rude and offensive.
Over the years, Heeney shared memes that mocked Black Lives Matter protesters, derided Section 8 housing and degraded women. Some of the memes, which feature digitally altered protest signs that convey racist stereotypes, were widely circulated by right-wing social media channels.
One meme Heeney shared falsely referred to former President Barack Obama as a Muslim and called Hillary Clinton “a pig.” Heeney said he regrets the post, which was meant to be a joke. “That’s not the man I am,” he said.
In the months leading up to the 2015 mayoral race, Heeney indicated that a white mayoral candidate would not secure the city’s top post because his skin color was the “wrong shade.” Yet Mayor Kenney, an Irish white guy from South Philly, went on to win that election with the majority of the black vote. Heeney, 59, said he now regrets the remark, too.
“I did not author or create any of the memes that appear on my Facebook page,” he told Billy Penn. “I do take responsibility for sharing them using poor judgement. But these memes in no shape or form define the man that I am.”
‘I’m getting shanghaied’
Heeney owns a Philly-based courier business and recently relocated his home to Torresdale after years of residing in suburban Willow Grove. As GOP leader in the 62nd Ward, his social media activity was no secret in those circles.
But the newly announced candidate says the now-deleted posts are being resurfaced as part of a political attack by his fellow Republicans enemies.
“I know I’m going to take some hits over this, but I’m getting shanghaied here,” he said. “Did I post most of it? Yeah…but this is all political tricks. This is all nonsense.”
In addition to politically and racially charged posts, Heeney is a frequent critic of sitting Republican leadership. In an interview, he referred to Republican Councilman David Oh and Al Taubenberger as the “15th and 16th Democrats” in the legislative body. The two at-large councilmembers hold the two minority party seats typically won by Republicans — and “that’s the main reason I’m running,” Heeney said.
‘I don’t approve’ vs ‘Not going to condemn’
Oh, who previously received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Heeney, called his social media posting “rude.”
“I don’t approve of his brand of racially inflamed innuendo and bombastic statements,” Oh said. “He’s trying to hit the unhappy white Republican vote in the Northeast and South Philly because of Donald Trump, and unfortunately he’s not the first to do so.”
Taubenberger said he wasn’t aware of Heeney’s posting history, but said that anyone running for public office in Philly should know there’s “no place for any place for any racially charged dialogue.”
Philly GOP chairman Michael Meehan came to Heeney’s defense while acknowledging how the language could be offensive.
“I know Bill, and he’s very generous — to a fault,” Meehan said. “Were some of the things inartful? Yes. But I’m not going to condemn him to hell for it. He’s just a regular guy who’s not necessarily very tactful on the whole thing. You know, half the time, I don’t know what to say anymore.”
Heeney emphasized that he regularly made fun of white people in Facebook posts, too, but “but you don’t see any of those posts” being shared. After speaking with a reporter, Heeney referred a reporter to an African American woman, Gay Campbell, 54, a friend whose daughter worked for Heeney at the his courier company. “I don’t know what people say or do on social media, but Mr. Heeney is not racist,” Campbell said.
Billy Penn gave Heeney a chance to respond to each of his various FB comments and shares individually.
On sharing a digitally altered photo mocking Black Lives Matter protesters
“Oh come on, I was just making fun of the person for spelling ‘son’ wrong.”
On meme of black women who voted for Obama
“You wanna crucify me for posting that? I think half the country thinks buying people cell phones for people is ridiculous. I put posts up of white people being saying stupid things too — they’re not on here, because my political opponents didn’t send them to you.”
On liberals and Section 8 housing
“Guilty as charged, it’s just my opinion. I stand by the Section 8 stuff too. What name has gotten better with Section 8? The neighborhood gets destroyed.”
On another photoshopped meme mocking Black Lives Matter protesters
“I didn’t know [this was fake]. They’re not showing you the pictures of white people I post.”
On use of racist language in discussion of Philly politics
“I used the wrong words and in hindsight that was terrible of me to say. I didn’t think Kenney could win it. I was involved in some campaigns where those numbers were impossible… I don’t think it was the best language to use, I was wrong for doing that.”
On use of ‘negros’ on his Facebook wall
“How do I comment on that?…Yeah, I know the guy. But I didn’t comment on that. Never had, never would. I changed the subject.”
On this Muslim/pig meme of Obama and Clinton
“I didn’t invent this meme. I just put up there for some political friends of mine, to joke around. It was in poor taste, I shouldn’t of done it. It’s not the man I am.”
On this ‘train your wife’ meme
“I posted that to get a laugh out of my wife. I’m a father with two daughters — I got females working for me. That’s out of bounds to me. I’m not an anti-woman guy.”
On Councilwoman Helen Gym and the Frank Rizzo statue controversy
“I was close to [Rizzo]. He worked through some tough times. Maybe half the population has a bad opinion of him, but half the pop loves him, and I stand by the guy. 22 percent of people are going to bed starving in this town and we’re worried about statues.”