Butkovitz: ‘Doc’ is running the show at Philly’s City Hall

Former city controller Alan Butkovitz says Mayor Jim Kenney is allowing indicted union leader John Dougherty to call the shots at City Hall. Butkovitz intends to challenge Kenney in the May Democratic primary. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Former city controller Alan Butkovitz says Mayor Jim Kenney is allowing indicted union leader John Dougherty to call the shots at City Hall. Butkovitz intends to challenge Kenney in the May Democratic primary. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the only announced rival to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in the May Democratic primary, is questioning Kenney’s association with indicted electricians union chief John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty.

“The concern is whether there’s a machine, Johnny Doc specifically, running City Hall, making the major decisions,” Butkovitz said in a phone interview.

Dougherty’s union, electricians Local 98 spent $450,000 on a super PAC to help Kenney’s successful 2015 campaign.

Dougherty supported Kenney’s controversial soda tax, and FBI transcripts in Dougherty’s indictment indicate that Dougherty saw the tax as a way to punish Teamsters officials he was feuding with.

According to an FBI recording, Dougherty told someone in July, 2015 to deliver a message to a Teamsters union official that “he is going to wind up with a f***ing soda tax, which is going to kill him.”

The indictment also details several efforts Dougherty made to ensure that City Councilman Bobby Henon, a union employee and now a co-defendant with Dougherty, worked to persuade others on City Council to enact the tax.

Butkovitz said that the information in the indictment raises troubling questions about what’s motivating Kenney administration policies.

Butkovitz said the soda tax and the programs it was designed to fund are the centerpiece of Kenney’s first term, “and it turns out that the real basis for the enactment of the soda tax was this grudge match between Dougherty and the Teamsters union.”

Kenney told reporters Wednesday he wanted the tax to fund pre-K and other programs, and whatever motivations the union had were their own.

“It may have been a revenge plot on Local 98, but it wasn’t [anything] to do with me,” he said.

Kenney said the idea for the soda tax came from his discussions with key financial advisers in the administration, and not from Dougherty.

He said he gets support from many unions, businesspeople and individuals.

Butkovitz himself sought and received Local 98 support when he was an elected official. Among others, he received an $11,900 contribution from the union last year when he was seeking re-election as city controller.

Asked about Local 98’s contributions to his campaigns, Butkovitz said those were donations within the city’s contribution limits (in contrast to the Super PAC help for Kenney) and that he’d maintained his independence from Dougherty on policy issues.

The money race

Kenney holds a substantial lead over Butkovitz in fundraising, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday.

Kenney reported raising $685,082 in 2018. He had $508,359 on hand as of Dec. 31.

Butkovitz raised $74,660 in 2018, and had $66,909 on hand at the end of the year.

While Kenney’s war chest is seven times the size of Butkovitz’s, it’s far short of the cash typically needed for a competitive mayor’s race.

Butkovitz said city contribution limits make super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums, the critical element in mayoral races now.

Butkovitz has said he’s hoping that beverage interests who oppose the soda tax will wage an independent campaign for him.

Building trades unions were critical in funding a super PAC for Kenney in 2015. It’s unclear whether that will happen again.

State Sen. Anthony Williams, who has said he is considering challenging Kenney this year, still has a campaign committee from his unsuccessful 2015 mayoral campaign.

It reported receiving no contributions in 2018, and had a balance of $14,918 as of Dec. 31.


This disclosure: Local 98 represents engineers at WHYY.

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