For one Philly councilperson, having more than one indicted colleague is a bit of deja vu

City Hall, Philadelphia.
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — For the first time in nearly 40 years, Philadelphia City Council has more than one member under federal indictment. The last time that happened was during the ABSCAM case in 1980, and there's one council member who can compare the atmosphere then to now.

"It was bedlam here, every week, every day," said Councilperson Brian O'Neill, who was a freshman member with a ringside seat to the circus that council became after three members were among the dozens indicted for taking money from FBI agents who they thought were Arab sheiks seeking political favors.

"And it was the entire leadership of Council: the president, the majority leader and the Council whip," he said. 

O'Neill says the circumstances were very different — all three were part of the same case, whereas current members Bobby Henon and Kenyatta Johnson are indicted in two different cases. 

But it's also because Council operated differently back then.

"Everything was decided by those three people. There was no sunshine law," he explained. 

There was also a large freshman class that wanted to change things.

"So people asking for someone to resign had nothing to do with guilt or innocence, it was, 'get out of here so we can take those leadership spots,'" O'Neill said.

The silver lining to ABSCAM were the reforms that followe, and O'Neill says Council is a more open, honest, democratic place. 

Could the current cases have the same kind of cleansing effect? He's not sure. But mostly he's hoping for a different resolution altogether.

"I'm an optimist so I hope any colleague of mine that get indicted is not guilty," he said.