The last time I talked with him, Johnny Doc was about to cement his power. It was Election Day 2015 and the kingmaker was holding court in a Two Street hall as Councilman Jim Kenney cruised to mayoral victory, and his own brother, Kevin Dougherty, was grabbing a seat on the state Supreme Court. Johnny Doc’s best friend, Bobby Henon, was already on City Council.
Sitting amid his army of poll workers, Doc gripped my shoulder and insisted that he was pulling no strings. Look at my outfit, he told me, not a few times: ratty sweatshirt, gym shorts, a beat-up Phillies cap.
“You don’t see me sitting in any fancy restaurants.”
Four years later, with Johnny staring down the barrel of a sweeping federal indictment charging him with doing all that and more, that conversation certainly sounds less like Doc bluster and a lot like the groundwork for his own defense.
Call it the gym-shorts defense.
>>READ MORE: Read the full Johnny Doc, IBEW Local 98 indictment
How could this regular guy, uninterested in the trappings of the finer life, be doing anything but exercising his civic duty (with the help of 4,700 union members and millions of dollars)? “I ain’t got no suits on, no gel in my hair,” he told me.
Well, tell that to the staffers at Boyds, where union officials allegedly used union cash to pay for gift cards for Doc, or Brooks Brothers, where Doc allegedly dropped six clams on sweater vests. Or the beauty aisle at the South Philly Target, which Doc allegedly sent his drivers to regularly clean out with — surprise! — the union’s American Express card.
The first thing the indictment, which charges Dougherty with wire fraud, embezzlement, and theft, lays bare is how our city’s most powerful kingmaker used union funds to live royally. Or at least like a king in South Philly, which apparently means a lot of shopping trips to Columbus Boulevard.
Take one of his alleged 2014 purchases from the local Target. Doc sent a lackey — the “kids,” he called his drivers, whose main job seemed to be shuttling back and forth from the big box stores — to snag: dog food and treats, Lucky Charms, scented candles, bananas, and a cardigan.
Then there were all the home renovations, trips, endless meals, luxury seats at Eagles games — $6 million in sports tickets over the years, the feds say. All on the backs of working-class union members, whose dues Doc allegedly treated as a slush fund. Perhaps most insulting is the family meal he expensed at Pietro’s as a meeting about “Diversity in the Union Movement.” It’s a slap to critics who have rightly called for more inclusion in the building trades — for years.
The indictment features a quote that’s far closer to the Johnny we all knew was under the working stiff at the Two Street hall: “I got a different world than most people ever exist in,” he says. ”I am able to take care of a lot of people all the time.”
He did. Allegedly.
And he also bought a councilman. Allegedly.
Bobby Henon is the other fallen star of this indictment, and within the indictment’s 154 pages, an extremely disturbing pattern – the grip Johnny Doc had on Philadelphia – begins to emerge. It’s a tale that undermines the progressive narrative Philly’s been telling the last few years, that of a city on the rise.
Take the soda tax. I’ve written column after column supporting the tax as a way to fund universal pre-K and renovations for parks and recreation facilities, and I have no reason to believe the mayor didn’t push it for exactly those reasons. But the indictment argues clearly that Henon introduced the soda tax at the urging of Doc, who wanted revenge, pure and simple, against the Teamsters.
Seems the Teamsters made a mean commercial about Johnny Doc. So Henon pushed the tax that has defined Kenney’s mayoralty, allegedly out of spite, in the hope it would cost Teamster jobs.
Our city’s premier progressive achievement owes a debt to a petty union feud.
Then there was the crucially needed audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority that Henon allegedly helped scuttle after a PPA official, who happened to belong to another building trades union, offered to install new windows on a Henon friend’s house.
And there was the disgusting threat that Doc made to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, after it used nonunion labor to install MRI machines. Doc allegedly had Henon call in a Licenses and Inspections violation, and then told CHOP officials he could, essentially, have the hospital shut down.