Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney just wanted to talk about Free Philly Streets, a new Streets Department initiative that would close 7 miles of city roads to auto traffic for five hours on Sept. 24, a move designed to echo the car-free paradise of last year’s papal visit.
But all a gaggle of reporters wanted to know about was Friday’s early morning FBI raid on numerous homes and offices affiliated with members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
The homes of prominent Local 98 leader John Dougherty and Philadelphia City Council member Robert Henon were among the targets of the raid. Philly.com reported that the the raids were allegedly connected to a federal investigation into the miuse of union funds. Numerous reports have federal agents removing documents, records and computer equipment from places being searched.
“I'm not gonna have any comment on this because I don't have any information," Kenney said, as his handlers whisked the mayor away from the press conference and into a waiting SUV.
The mayor, who received critical support from Dougherty and Local 98 during his mayoral run last year, denied being approached by the FBI. Later on, though, during the press conference, when asked if members of his staff had been interviewed, he gave an inaudible response. After initially refusing to confirm or deny if members of his administration had been approached, spokesperson Lauren Hitt later said no staffers had been questioned by the feds.
Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Jr. and Mark Squilla were both on hand for the press conference, as the course of street closures will traverse both their districts. Squilla, who lives a few blocks from Dougherty in the city’s Pennsport neighborhood, has been heavily backed by Local 98 in his run for council.
He denied any knowledge or connection to the raids and said he had not been approached by the FBI.
“I really don’t know, it would be unfair to comment,” Squilla said. “I don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re there. You guys know more than I do.”
Councilmember Jones had been knocked out of a Majority leader slot on City Council earlier in the year in favor of Henon, who draws a $71,000 salary from Local 98 in addition to his government salary.
Jones said the raids would not affect his opinion of his colleague.
“I take no joy in anyone else’s troubles” he said. “When one aspect of council is questioned, all aspects of council is questioned. I think council is just fine – we have a lot of leaders, and I’m going to lead from wherever I sit.”
When asked if he still had full faith in Henon as council majority leader, Jones replied, “I have full faith in me.”
Jones said he had not been approached by the FBI.
Dougherty did not respond to a request for comment, but during the raid he gave a brief statement outside his home.
“Nothing's changed in this house in the last ten, fifteen years,” he said. “Except the tomato plants growing in the backyard."