Johnny Doc corruption charges

Who on City Council wanted Johnny Doc’s ‘little hug’? An investigation.

The Local 98 indictment contained an Easter egg about the soda tax battle.

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Considering all the dizzying allegations in the bombshell federal indictment against labor leader John Dougherty and City Councilman Bobby Henon, we won’t fault you for missing the little hug.

The hug was a small detail buried on page 121 of the 153-page indictment. To understand it in context, we travel back to May 2016 when the soda tax battle raged in City Hall. For months, lawmakers and lobbyists had been sparring over the nine votes needed to pass Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature legislation.

At the behest of Dougherty, prosecutors say, Henon was busy whipping up votes in favor of the levy. The bill’s passage was reputedly key to Doc’s vendetta against the Teamsters union. In a taped conversation on May 24, Henon allegedly informed Dougherty he could secure one more vote behind the tax — but it would require a favor.

A “little, like, hug,” Henon called it.

Dougherty responded with his trademark confidence — and familiarity with the unnamed lawmaker’s personal interests.

“Let him know that once you get this stuff, there’s gonna be a ton of major league jobs, that his wife [is] more than qualified for,” the now-indicted union boss instructed Henon, according to the indictment unsealed Wednesday.

A month later, the soda tax passed with an easy margin of 13 votes. Council’s three Republicans opposed the measure along with Democrat Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. But things easily could have gone a different direction.

Insiders say transactional politics are de rigueur in Philadelphia — especially concerning controversial legislation like the soda tax, where political agendas can be made or crushed by one legislator on the fence. But it’s rare to actually get a glimpse at what it takes to whip those swing votes. That’s what the indictment purports to show: Dougherty offering to sweeten the pot with a readymade job for a lawmaker’s wife.

Generally, federal prosecutors do not name parties who aren’t being charged, and that’s the case here, where the beneficiary of the “hug” is never identified.

Still. This is City Council we’re talking about, not a multigenerational dynasty like Game of Thrones. There are only 17 members. None of them are fessing up. Does the evidence presented by the FBI give enough context clues to narrow down the candidates?

Who might have welcomed Doc’s embrace?

Male and married

For starters, the hug seeker is allegedly a “he.” That eliminates Council’s six female-identifying electeds.

Down to 11.

Henon is obviously not a suspect here, so make that 10. From Doc’s alleged quote, we can further deduce the swing voter in question has a wife. Nix Councilman Allan Domb and Council President Darrell Clarke, both unmarried.

Eight, then.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Prior to the alleged exchange between Doc and Henon in May 2015, several of our remaining male councilmembers had already publicly taken sides on the soda tax debate — notably, the three sitting Republicans.

Republican At-Large Councilman Al Taubenberger was an early foe of the tax. “My vote is no. Not now. Not ever,” he said in early May, weeks prior to the alleged Dougherty-Henon scrum.

Same goes for Republican Councilman Brian O’Neill, whose district includes far Northeast Philly. He had been slamming the soda tax since its fizzled run in 2011, warning that it would “drive people to the suburbs” to buy their groceries “at non-union stores.” And Republican Councilman David Oh was another early skeptic, voting in line with his Republican colleagues and the local party’s negative views on the levy.

Of course, though they were presenting as surefire no votes, they could have entertained a swing vote behind the curtains. None could be reached for comment over the weekend.

The five remaining Democrats

Bill Greenlee, Derek Green, Curtis Jones, Kenyatta Johnson and Mark Squilla.

Male? Check. Married? Check. Ended up yes on soda tax? Five checkmarks.

So whose wife, according to Dougherty, would be “more than qualified” and eager to take a “ton of major league jobs”?

Leslie Greenlee, Bill Greenlee’s other half for more than 25 years, is an ESL teacher. Asked if he was the swing vote who wanted a “little hug” for his wife, the councilman laughed.

“That’s definitely not my wife,” Greenlee said.

Sources say Greenlee’s wife would prefer to pull the councilman out of politics; Greenlee wouldn’t comment on that tidbit. (The councilman hasn’t addressed long-swirling rumors about his potentially looming retirement.)

Next up, Squilla. His wife works as a nurse anesthetist — not exactly a political insider. Is there a slim chance Dougherty was referring to her for a cushy gig around the soda tax-funded programs like universal pre-K? Squilla’s office said that’s a big no.

That’s a negative from Councilman Green, too.

He and his wife once co-ran a women’s shoe store in Mt. Airy. Now, Green says, she works as a project manager at a local healthcare system.

Jones’ office has yet to return a request for comment. A news report puts him as a champion of the tax “from day one.”

Well-regarded in City Hall, Jones’ wife, Jazelle Jones, works as a deputy managing director for the city. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration office confirmed Friday that she has held that post since 2005, where payroll data shows she now earns $154,000 annually — more than any councilmember’s salary.

Johnson is married to Dawn Chavous, a well-connected political consultant and the board president of an educational nonprofit. Johnson also vehemently denied being the unnamed councilmember.

“I would never be involved in that type of behavior,” he said. “The votes that I take are to benefit my constituents.”

Send tips

Notably, no one spoken to for this story challenged the veracity of the feds’ claim that a member of Council sought a political favor in exchange for an embrace from Dougherty. They simply denied personal involvement.

Council members, even those far removed from the federal indictment, are feeling the ripple effects. According to one high-ranking source, the mood could be summed up by Friday’s Inquirer editorial board verdict: “Johnny Doc, Bobby Henon indictment damages all of Philly City Council.”

Philadelphia doesn’t need to be a place where corruption is the norm. Know something that could help solve the little hug — or any other riddle buried in the Local 98 indictment? Send a tip to max@billypenn.com.

Want some more? Explore other Johnny Doc corruption charges stories.

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