Meet the new boss?

    A funny thing has happened in Philadelphia politics the last few years – the honchos faded away.

    I can remember when City Council was a cauldron of warring political factions. There was a the Bill Gray crew – loyal to the powerhouse Congressman from Northwest Philadelphia. There was the Street-Blackwell faction – John Street, Lucien Blackwell and friends. And of course the don from South Philly, Vince Fumo had his loyalists.

    Now Gray is long gone, Blackwell deceased, Street retired, and Fumo doing federal time.

    But electricians union leader John Dougherty could soon become the leader of a whole new gang, as Catherine Lucey and Chris Brennan point out in the lead story in today’s Daily News.

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    With an unusually large number of Council seats in play, Dougherty is positioning himself to back candidates for several. If three or four of his candidates were to win in the May 17 Democratic primary, he would instantly be a major power broker, able to influence anybody’s legislation.

    Among the candidates will be Doc’s own political lieutenant, Bobby Henon, who’s making a play for the Lower Northeast seat being vacated by Council veteran Joan Krajewski.

    A few years back I looked into the political spending of electricians Local 98, Dougherty’s union. I discovered it had by far the largest-spending political committee in Pennsylvania, far outspending the PACs’s of big banks and law firms, and unions several times Dougherty’s size.

    The union PAC is funded by deductions from every Local 98 electricians’ paycheck, and Doc has influence with several other political committees, some of which get contributions from the union.

    If each of the committees Dougherty influences weighs in with a $10,600 contribution (the maximum permitted by city law), that’s enough to make a serious contender out of just about anybody.

    This bears watching.

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