Jimmy Riddle Hoffa, one of the most connected labor leaders of the 1970s once proudly stated, “I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, the strong survive and the weak disappear. We do not intend to disappear.” Shortly thereafter, in 1975, he did just that and was presumably murdered and cremated by the mafia dons who infiltrated the Teamsters Union. Fast forward forty-four years and the latest well-connected right coast union boss, John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty is on the ropes facing charges of embezzlement, bribery, and theft.
Politicians are phrasing their responses to Dougherty’s indictment with extreme caution.
Pennsylvania Democrats are in full-blown panic mode. Why? Because Dougherty and his union, the Local 98 of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are Democrats’ single largest independent source of campaign funding in the state. If he’s ousted, the loss will produce a financial schism in the system too broad to traverse for years to follow. A few Republicans have been prompted to celebrate, such as Charlie Gerow, a local political consultant:
“Anytime there’s a vacuum, it gets filled, and I believe there’s an opportunity for the Republicans to take advantage of the fact that the Democratic machinery is minus one piece.”
Earlier this week, a 116-count indictment was issued alleging Dougherty and his pals stole more than “$600,000 in union funds and repeatedly strong-armed public and private officials.” It also highlights certain “abuses” by Dougherty, including: use of his union’s credit cards to buy groceries for his home and splurge on fancy restaurants, using cash-on-hand to pay contractors for work at his South Philadelphia home and bar, and paying friends and family members as employees – although it appears most were merely personal errand gophers.
It’s good to be the boss man. Until law enforcement finally catches up – which they did, and now political futures for the 2020 battleground state are suddenly in limbo.
Dougherty is a political kingmaker – the man has handed governors, congressmen, mayors, judges, state lawmakers, and Council members throughout Pennsylvania their seats of power. But now, he may be facing a foe he can’t hammer into submission. If in fact his reign is coming to a close, he leaves a legacy that will take decades to reverse. He is credited with orchestrating the Democratic takeover of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which in turn radically redrew the state’s congressional district map during 2018 in favor of Democrats, which resulted in an additional handful of freshmen leftists in the 116th Congress.
He has been the power and influence behind Governor Tom Wolf, Representative Brendan Boyle (D-PA), and was responsible for seating Jim Kenney in the Philadelphia mayor’s office. His tentacles are far-reaching and daunting, and he even secured his own brother, Kevin Dougherty, as a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As local political public relations go-to guy, Larry Ceisler, explains:
“It will have national implications for 2020 in Pennsylvania if John and 98 are sidelined. You’re talking about potentially millions of dollars, let alone their different operations for get-out-the-vote.”
Especially in a state with no limits on political donations. Dougherty owns the Keystone State – at least for now.
Will Charges Stick?
Dougherty isn’t alone on the federal hit list as he shares the indictment with Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon, union president Brian Burrows, and union officials Michael Neill, Marita Crawford, Niko Rodriguez, and Brian Fiocca. Anthony Massa is also on the indictment as he ran a construction company that was beneficiary of a hefty $1.8 million from IBEW coffers. So far, all have pled not guilty.
Politicians are phrasing their responses to Dougherty’s indictment with extreme caution. Wolf’s vague reply to a reporter’s questions appeared to be an attempt to distance his close relationship:
“I really value and appreciate the support I got from working people all across Pennsylvania, and what happens at the senior levels in leadership in any organization, I think the law will do what it has to do.”
Meanwhile, Henon claims, “Every action I have taken as City Council member has been with the goal of serving working people.”
And perhaps this is much ado about nothing, as Dougherty says: “Some people are vindictive. Most people just don’t understand my industry, and I play with a lot of powerful people who aren’t fond of me. A lot of people in this town — most of the greedy elite — they don’t think much of me, OK? I’m white trash to them guys.”
It might do the feds well to keep an eye out for Dougherty if things veer further south for the man. We wouldn’t want him to miss his day in court now, would we?