Labor Day, by tradition, kicks off the fall political campaign season for the Nov. 3 general election.

Politicians pull together, setting aside the lingering animosity of old slights and tussles, to try to help their parties prevail.

That's going to be tricky for Democrats in Northeast Philadelphia this season.

A battle for political control has been raging up there for a couple of years between the old-guard ward leaders - John Sabatina Sr., Mike McAleer, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III - and the upstart Boyle brothers, Brendan, now in the U.S. House, and Kevin, still in the state House.

The Boyles have had a powerful ally in their corner: John Dougherty, who leads Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Dougherty's political machine is completely focused for now on the general election eight weeks away. His brother, Philadelphia Common Pleas Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty, is one of seven candidates for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

But Kevin Boyle is already campaigning to run in the April 26 primary election for the state Senate's Fifth District. Stack held that seat until he became lieutenant governor. Former State Rep. John Sabatina Jr., the ward leader's son, won that Senate seat in a special election on May 19.

Meanwhile, the Boyle brothers have built their own political operation in Northeast Philadelphia, working around the ward leaders. Dougherty has been happy to help.

His union put up much of the cash for an independent political action committee that backed Brendan Boyle's run for the U.S. House last year.

In contrast, Sabatina and his crowd backed former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies for the same seat.

Kevin Boyle's campaign literature for the state Senate race is already floating around at political gatherings in the Northeast. A website registered in July says simply: "Coming Soon! Kevin Boyle, Democrat for State Senate."

Sabatina Sr. said he called John Dougherty last Thursday to congratulate Dougherty on his selection as the next leader of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. He said Dougherty agreed during that phone call to host an Oct. 22 senatorial campaign fund-raiser for his son.

"He's been telling me all along that he's with my kid," Sabatina said.

Here, a little context could come in handy.

Democratic infighting is blamed by many for a loss to the Republicans a special election held in March to fill the state House seat that Brendan Boyle left in January to take office in the U.S. House.

Who exactly should be blamed for that depends on whom you ask.

Kevin Boyle calls it "very embarrassing to the Democratic Party," laying blame at the feet of Stack and Sabatina.

John Sabatina Jr. said he gets a kick out of that, since the Boyle brothers openly derided the Democratic pick in the special election. "Everybody in the world blames him [Kevin Boyle] and his brother," he said.

A cease-fire of sorts was called in August when Democrat Ed Neilson, who in May lost his primary bid for a full four-year term on City Council, won a special election to fill the state House seat vacated by Sabatina Jr.

Neilson is a former political director for Local 98.

Where does this go next? Good question.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the city's Democratic Party, is focused on the general election but he recognizes that politicians will be politicians.

"That's what Democrats do. We fight," he said.

Dougherty, typically an eager combatant in the rhetorical fisticuffs of local politics, said last week that he just wants to get through the general election before thinking about April's primary election.

He referred follow-up questions to his spokesman, Frank Keel, who noted that Dougherty is "largely responsible" for the younger Sabatina's first electoral win in 2006.

"Interestingly, though, I'm pretty sure the only division Ed Neilson lost in his recent successful special election for state representative was Sen. Sabatina's division," Keel added in an email. "Read into that what you will."

Sure enough, Neilson lost that slim slice of Rhawnhurst, 37-25, to Republican Tim Dailey.

That's a margin of 12 votes in one division in an election that Neilson won overall by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, with 3,759 votes cast.

So much for setting aside slights and tussles for the good of the party.

I still had one more question for Dougherty: Did he promise to host the fund-raiser for Sabatina the younger and support his bid for reelection to the senate?

I'll let you know if Dougherty ever gets around to answering.

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan