Police probe reported phone threat to Philadelphia Council candidate

Posted: January 18, 2011

After this month's deadly shootings in Tucson, Ariz., Martin Bednarek was taking no chances.

So when someone left a message on his cell phone Friday warning that he would "end up with broken arms and with broken legs" if he did not end his race for the Sixth District City Council seat, he went to the police.

"You just can't take anything for granted, especially with what those poor people in Arizona are going through," said Bednarek, a former member of the School Reform Commission who wants to succeed retiring Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski.

Bednarek filed a police complaint, and on Monday, detectives were investigating the message, in which the male caller also made disparaging remarks about U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chair of Philadelphia's Democratic Party.

The call - from a restricted number - came while Bednarek was in his dentist's chair.

"If you know what's good for you, just drop out of the race," the caller said. "You don't want to get caught in a bar in an unpleasant situation," he added after making references to broken limbs.

Police Lt. Mark Burgmann would not discuss details of the case. But police, who confiscated Bednarek's phone, moved quickly to get a search warrant to compel Verizon to disclose the caller's phone number, Bednarek said. The warrant was issued, Bednarek said, but police still did not learn the caller's phone number.

"I don't know what to think. . . . There's no place for this in politics today," said Bednarek, 55, president and chief executive officer of Washington Savings Association. He said he also played the message for Brady, who told Bednarek he could not identify the voice.

Brady has made no public endorsement in the race for the largely Democratic Sixth District, which includes Port Richmond and parts of the Northeast.

Just one other Democrat has announced his candidacy: Bobby Henon, political strategist for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Bednarek said union business manager John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty called him last Tuesday to tell him that Henon would run. Bednarek also said Henon told him himself when they saw each other at the Eagles-Packers playoff game Jan. 9.

Dougherty - who answered Henon's cell phone Monday - said neither he nor Henon knew anything about the call.

Dougherty said Bednarek had sought Local 98's support, including at a lunch before Christmas at the Famous 4th Street Deli. At the time, Henon was not in the race, and Dougherty was backing State Rep. Michael McGeehan, who is no longer running.

"I think both of them guys should take a pledge that they will keep it completely positive and talk about the issues, about crime, jobs," Dougherty said.

Saying he was speaking from his own experience - he said he frequently receives threatening letters or calls - Dougherty added, "I always worry about overzealous supporters on both sides."

"Everybody is sensitive to what happened in Arizona," Dougherty said. "I hope [Bednarek] is not politicizing that issue, too."

Mayor John F. Street appointed Bednarek to the Board of Education in 2000. Three years later, Street - with Gov. Rendell's support - selected Bednarek as one of his two appointees to the School Reform Commission, the district's governing body following its 2001 state takeover.

A longtime youth sports advocate, Bednarek was an outspoken and often blunt, school board member who at times clashed with district administration. He opposed former chief executive Paul Vallas' failed attempt to have city police stationed in the schools and criticized the Vallas administration after a budget deficit surfaced toward the end of Vallas' tenure. He also spoke in support of former Commissioner Heidi Ramirez when she came under fire for questioning Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and her administration.

Bednarek left the commission in spring 2009 when he was not reappointed.

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Susan Snyder contributed to this article.

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