Electricians union leader John Dougherty has become a powerful player in regional politics. He’s also become an issue in a contentious Northeast Philadelphia City council race.
There’s a battle between a former Democratic ward leader and an official in Dougherty’s union.
Last week Bobby Henon brought chips and sandwiches to a seniors group in Tacony to make his pitch for a City Council seat.
“I know what’s deteriorating our neighborhoods, I know how I was raised on personal responsibility and the morals my mother and father instilled in me,” Henon began.
It was standard campaign fare, well received. But the most visible figure in the battle to replace retiring Councilwoman Joan Krajewski isn’t Henon or his opponent. It’s John Dougherty, who said he wouldn’t be interviewed about this race because he doesn’t want to be an issue.
Dougherty’s electricians union Local 98 runs the biggest spending political committee in Pennsylvania and Henon is the union’s political director. His opponent is local banker, former ward leader and former School Reform Commissioner Martin Bednarek.
Bednarek is running full-page newspaper ads featuring Dougherty’s image.
“The people of Northeast Philadelphia should have an independent voice. I don’t think it should be a hand-picked candidate that has been picked by a South Philadelphia ward leader and political boss, which is Johnny Dougherty,” said Bednarek. “I believe he’s calling all the shots on this campaign.”
Questions on 2007 attacks
Henon says he’s his own man, and proud to have Dougherty’s support. Bednarek’s ad includes an image of Henon’s signature on a consent agreement the union signed with the City of Philadelphia Board of Ethics. After a legal battle, the union admitted funding two anonymous fliers in the closing days of the 2007 mayor’s race which used religious and racial appeals to attack then-candidate Michael Nutter.
“That agreement speaks volumes of what those folks are capable of doing,” said Bednarek. “I mean, they have no conscience when it comes to those type of things.”
The fliers were put out by two political operatives the union hired. A key question is what Henon, the union’s political director, knew about what the operatives were up to.
“Absolutely nothing,” Henon says. “And that’s why, you know, we’re more accountable, you know this is about the future, and it made us more accountable to the people that we hire as far as our consultants go.”
The last Local 98 member to serve on City Council, Rick Mariano, went to prison on corruption charges, though none of his crimes were connected to the union. The court case revealed that key staff members in Mariano’s office were chosen by and loyal to Dougherty. Bednarek says that’s what voters can expect if Henon is elected.
Henon says he’ll run his office and has a broader point about trust..
“If you’re vouching for integrity, I can tell you that you should ask Gov. Ed Rendell who’s supported me, and many other elected officials,” he says.
Henon has raised $624,000
It’s true Henon has a long list of political supporters, including District Attorney Seth Williams. Local 98’s clout has a lot to do with that, and with the astonishing $624,000 the Henon campaign has raised so far. That’s far more than any other contender for City Council.
The union has also put at least $10,000 into the campaigns of at least four other council candidates. Committee of Seventy CEO Zack Stalberg says Dougherty is thinking big.
“We’re dealing with a more mature John Dougherty who’s trying to have influence in different ways that he did a dozen years ago, and I think he’s going to be a very big player moving forward,” says Stalberg.
Bednarek does have one important endorsement of his own–Mayor Michael Nutter.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Sandra Stewart in the fall.