Eight unions back Philly DA hopeful O’Neill

     Philadelphia district attorney candidate Jack O'Neill addresses about 200 union members Wednesday night as he received the endorsement of eight construction unions in his bid for the Democratic nomination.(Brad Larrison for NewsWorks)

    Philadelphia district attorney candidate Jack O'Neill addresses about 200 union members Wednesday night as he received the endorsement of eight construction unions in his bid for the Democratic nomination.(Brad Larrison for NewsWorks)

    Philadelphia District Attorney candidate Jack O’Neill picked up the endorsement of eight construction unions Wednesday night, pledging that he won’t forget them if he’s elected.

    Speaking to about 200 union members at the Plumbers Union hall, O’Neill vowing that he would remember  them as DA.

    “In the first 30 days, I will appoint a deputy of labor liaison,” O’Neill said. “So that every one of you will have direct and constant communication with a person who understands what you need.”

    The line drew robust applause.

    Asked afterward if he were promising special treatment for campaign supporters, O’Neill said no, but that he values good relationships with the unions that provide good-paying jobs, and, he hopes, opportunities for defendants who need employment rather than jail.

    He also said he wants the DA’s office to go after employers who ignore prevailing wage requirements, rip off workers and dodge taxes.

    Wayne Miller, business manager of Sprinkler Fitters Local 292 and president of the Building Trades Council, said his member unions need a DA who will go after rogue employers.

    “They get the jobs, and they don’t pay taxes, they don’t pay the city wage tax,” Miller said. “They don’t pull their permits, and the thing is that that has to be enforced.”

    A political coup?

    O’Neill was a late entry in the DA’s race, dropping off his nominating petitions on the last day. At 35, he’s also the youngest candidate in the field, though the one with the most years prosecuting cases in the Philadelphia DA’s office. He’s spent his whole legal career there.

    O’Neill said the show of union support is game changer in the seven-candidate Democratic primary, declaring in an interview after the rally, “I think you’d have to say at this point that we’re in the lead.”

    That might be a stretch, since O’Neill reported just $11,000 on hand at his last campaign filing, and other candidates have picked up endorsements and contributors, too.

    But it’s fair to note that the building trades unions have often been generous donors and enthusiastic supporters on Election Day.

    “We can muster up a bunch of people to get out there to work for people that we support,” said Plumbers Local 690 leader John Kane. “And we also know how to raise money.”

    Democratic ward leaders also matter a lot in low turnout elections like this, and I counted about a half dozen in attendance at the rally in far Northeast Philadelphia.

    None I spoke to were prepared to say for certain they’ll be supporting O’Neill on Election Day, but they weren’t ruling it out either.

    The Building Trades Council — the association of all construction unions — decided not to endorse a candidate for DA, and while O’Neill picked up a sizable chunk of their support, some unions have gone in different directions.

    The Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 endorsed Rich Negrin.

    Operating Engineers Local 542 endorsed Teresa Carr Deni.

    The biggest spending construction union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, has not endorsed a candidate.

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