I come not to bury Johnny Doc, but to praise him.
Not for how he runs his union, or his Machiavellian politics, or his occasional strong-arm methods, which I have experienced. This is not about labor leader John J. Dougherty, who is facing a 116-count indictment for alleged corruption.
This is about the lesser-known Johnny Doc, who embraces charities serving children, gays, the homeless, the powerless.
The indictment was followed by a gleeful piling on by the media, as often happens to the accused.
What they don’t all know, but I do, is his charitable side.
I’m not here to be his lawyer. I’m here to flesh out the portrait of the longtime leader of Electricians Local 98 and of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.
During the 25 years I served on the board of Variety, the Children’s Charity, Johnny Doc was president twice — until 2009, when it fell into a $5 million hole. It was in a death spiral and he returned for an unprecedented third time. There was nothing in it for him except risk: He could have been in the cockpit when the charity crashed and burned.
It didn’t. I don’t know how he did it — he may have twisted some arms and kissed some butt — but he rescued Variety.
“He saved the charity, without question, “ says former Variety president Joe Sweeney, the vice president and regional development officer at Firstrust Bank.
Because Johnny Doc and I were friendly from Variety, I was more than surprised the night when, red-faced, he rushed up to me at a cocktail party, gripped my shoulders in his strong hands, shook me, and hissed, “Stay away from my family.”
One of his lunkhead associates had told him I was investigating his family. I was not. Because he can be a hothead, he reacted without thinking. It was quickly straightened out.
Eight-hour days are foreign to most labor leaders, and Johnny Doc gave Variety a ton of his time. In terms of financial aid to charities, that money came from the coffers of Local 98, which he has led since 1993, but Johnny Doc made it happen. He told Local 98 it was important and he shook the money tree.
The union recently made a $100,000 contribution to the Hub of Hope, Project HOME’s outpost in Suburban Station.
His largesse has extended to the LGBT community. Calling Johnny Doc “a forward-thinking guy,” Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, tells me Dougherty spontaneously approached him to offer help.
“John has been a great friend of the LGBT community, in Philadelphia and nationally,” says Bartlett. “Local 98 electricians volunteer hundreds of hours to support William Way, the Attic Youth Center, and other community projects.”
Union volunteers also help Alex’s Lemonade Stand, says Jay Scott, its co-executive director.
In addition to an annual donation, Local 98 “apprentices go around and raise money for us” during the Alex’s telethon, Scott tells me. “It’s about teaching the apprentices about giving back in life.”
Dougherty preaches to his people that giving back to the community is part of unionism.
Local 98 apprentices also pitch in at Rock Ministries, which operates in Kensington, ground zero of the opioid epidemic. “They put on gloves, pick up brooms, and sweep the needles off the streets,” says Pastor Buddy Osborn.
“As far as the electric in the building is concerned, he’s been here from Day One,” says Osborn. “It’s amazing. He never looks for anything in return. I’m always impressed that there are no cameras, no publicity.”
When other charities needed electrical work, or plumbing, or masonry, or carpentry, a call to Johnny Doc often brought results. Free of charge.
I’m not saying Johnny Doc is Santa Claus.