Under indictment, Philly’s ‘Johnny Doc’ still a player in politics

Labor leader Johnny Dougherty applauds marchers in the Labor Day parade on Columbus Boulevard as they arrive at Penn's Landing. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Labor leader Johnny Dougherty applauds marchers in the Labor Day parade on Columbus Boulevard as they arrive at Penn's Landing. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The fraud and embezzlement charges leveled against Philadelphia electricians union leader John Dougherty in January raised a question: Would he continue to be a major player in local politics, or would candidates be wary of accepting his support and money?

While many in competitive races didn’t take money from the union, campaign filings show plenty of politicians are still happy to take checks from the union headed by the man known as “Johnny Doc.”

Three Democratic Council-at-large candidates accepted substantial checks from the union.

Incumbent Councilwoman Helen Gym took $20,000. Isaiah Thomas took $21,000, and Katherine Gilmore Richardson accepted $10,000.

In a statement, Gym’s campaign manager Rachele Fortier said the councilwoman is “a champion of working families” who “would accept support from any union that supports working families, including the membership of IBEW Local 98.”

Thomas and Richardson expressed similar sentiments.

One curious discrepancy in the campaign finance reports involves incumbent Councilman-at-large Derek Green.

Local 98’s report shows the union gave Green’s campaign committee $20,000 on April 26. Green said he took no contributions from the union, and the $20,000 contribution does not appear on his campaign finance report.

In a brief phone conversation, Dougherty couldn’t say what happened, noting he wasn’t involved in all the details of the union’s contributions. After looking into the matter, union spokesman Frank Keel responded Thursday  that Green’s check was at the union hall, uncashed because Green had never picked it up.

“Green obviously requested it or it never would have been cut in the first place,” Keel said.

Green hasn’t returned calls seeking clarification.

Local 98 represents engineers working here at WHYY.

Spreading it around

The reports show that Local 98 spent $746,000 this year supporting 19 Philadelphia candidates for office (see list below). That includes $400,000 contributed to the super PAC Philly 2019, which is running ads for Mayor Jim Kenney.

2019 IBEW Local 98 municipal campaign contributions

(all Democrats except where indicated)

Mayoral candidates

Jim Kenney (through super PAC): $400,000

Council candidates

Bobby Henon: $11,900
Curtis Jones: $2,000
Jannie Blackwell: $11,900
Cherelle Parker: $11,900
Mark Squilla: $11,900
Angel Cruz: $10,000
Helen Gym: $20,000
Isaiah Thomas: $21,000
Katherine Gilmore Richardson: $10,000
Dan Tinney – R: $20,000
Al Taubenberger – R: $3,000

City Commissioner candidates

Lisa Deeley: $10,000
Omar Sabir:  $11,900
Al Schmidt:  – R: $11,900

Judicial candidates

Dan McCaffery (Superior Court): $50,000
David Conroy (Municipal Court): $100,000
James Crumlish (Common Pleas): $20,000

Others

Ron Donatucci (Register of wills): $10,000

Total $746,400

Many of those who accepted Local 98 checks aren’t in competitive races, including Dougherty’s co-defendant in the criminal case, Councilman Bobby Henon, who is unopposed in the Tuesday primary.

But district Council candidates Ángel Cruz, who’s challenging incumbent Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and Jannie Blackwell, who’s in a battle for renomination, did take checks from the union.

Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council, said candidates who are attacking Local 98 before its members have their day in court may regret their decision.

“I think it’s a fool’s mission that they’re on,” Eiding said, “because Local 98 and its members will remember for a long, long time [that] anybody who feels that way now can’t come back tomorrow and say, ‘I like ya.'”

Mayoral candidates Alan Butkovitz and state Sen. Anthony Williams have accused Kenney of being a pawn of Dougherty. Both have taken substantial contributions from Local 98 in the past.

It was also striking that candidates who got support from other building trades unions were the same ones who accepted checks from Local 98.

While there was no formal policy, Eiding said, there was a general sentiment among many building trades leaders that candidates who turned their backs on Local 98 weren’t going to get help from the other trades.

Besides heading Local 98, Dougherty is business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.

Gym, who got $20,000 from Local 98, collected another $21,500 from five other building trades unions. Thomas, who got $21,000 from Local 98, got $19,400 from three other building trades unions.

Both Gym and Thomas also were endorsed by many other unions.

A wider reach

The money spent on Philadelphia candidates represents less than half of the more than $1.4 million Local 98 devoted to political spending since Jan. 1.

The union gave $25,000 to Norristown Borough Council candidate Thomas Lepera; $50,000 to Gov. Tom Wolf’s inaugural committee (before the Dougherty indictment); $10,000 to the campaign of Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence; and many tens of thousands to Philadelphia ward committees and county political committees outside of Philadelphia.

After that spending, the Local 98 committee reported more than $7.7 million on hand as of May 6.

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