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Johnny Doc seeks ward leadership

John Dougherty, the combative leader of the city electricians union, is running for office again - this time, for Democratic ward leader in South Philadelphia.

John Dougherty, the combative leader of the city electricians union, is running for office again - this time, for Democratic ward leader in South Philadelphia.

Unlike his last campaign, a 3,500-vote loss trying to replace Vince Fumo in the state Senate, two years ago, Dougherty will have fewer people to convince: the 42 Democratic committeemen and women of the 1st Ward, elected in last month's primary. They meet Monday night to choose a new ward leader.

Similar meetings will be held throughout the city, as the newly elected committeemen in both parties select ward leaders in each of the city's 69 wards.

But competitive races for ward leader are rare, limited to five or six among the Democrats and just a couple among the Republicans.

Dougherty lives in Pennsport, just outside the 1st Ward boundaries, but is eligible for the ward leadership if he can win support from two-thirds of the committee people.

There was talk this week of negotiations between Dougherty and the incumbent ward leader, 89-year-old Joseph Hoffman Sr., to deliver a group of committee people who remain loyal to Hoffman.

But Hoffman told the Daily News that there's no deal and that he plans to seek re-election Monday night, with one caveat: "If I drop dead, I'm not running."

Dougherty did not return calls from the Daily News - a reticence he's maintained since losing the Senate race to Larry Farnese in 2008.

But he's widely thought to be interested in using the ward leadership as a springboard to the citywide post of party treasurer - a job he lost four years ago in a dispute with U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the party chairman.

Asked by a reporter this week about the possibility of Dougherty returning as the city's Democratic treasurer, Brady said the union leader has been "extremely helpful" with party finances - including a recent offer to shore up funding for the spring primary.

But Brady said there was "no vacancy" in the treasurer's position because it's held by state Rep. Frank Oliver. Although Oliver is giving up his seat in the state House at the end of this year, Brady said he'd heard nothing to suggest that Oliver wants to step down as party treasurer.

In both parties, the ward leaders elected Monday night will meet later to choose their party's top leadership, but no changes are expected.

Brady faces no known opposition to continuing his 24-year run atop the Democratic Party.

And despite continuing turmoil between Republican City Committee and the state party leadership, Michael P. Meehan will remain the local Republicans' general counsel and acknowledged leader - in part because of a party bylaw change that strengthens the voting power of ward leaders in Northeast Philadelphia, where most Republicans in the city live.

Among the Democrats, there are other pending ward fights in South Philadelphia's 2nd Ward, where Ed Nesmith, the ward leader since last fall, is being challenged by Nick Schmanek, an aide to Councilman Frank DiCicco.

In the 61st Ward, incumbent Bob McGowan is stepping down. Sharon Losier and Jeff Hackett are interested in replacing him.

Incumbents Pete Wilson, in West Philadelphia's 6th Ward, and Bernice Hill, in the Northeast's 63rd Ward, also face reported challenges.

Among the Republicans, one significant challenge is in Mayfair, where 65th Ward leader Philip Innamorato has sided with party insurgents who are openly critical of Meehan's leadership.

Innamorato now faces a serious challenge from Thomas Matkow-ski and could be toppled Monday night. The result may hang on a change in Republican City Committee bylaws, requiring write-in candidates to get at least 10 votes to win election as GOP committeemen. State law says they need only a plurality of votes.

Another GOP challenge has developed in Center City's 8th Ward, where a longtime Meehan loyalist, Suzanne Cohen, faces opposition from Lindsey Doering.

Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.