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Johnny Doc: Man of influence and contradictions

John J. Dougherty walks a line of contradiction, as ready to mix it up in a street brawl as he is to mingle with the region's political elite.

John J. Dougherty walks a line of contradiction, as ready to mix it up in a street brawl as he is to mingle with the region's political elite.

Hailed as "Johnny Doc" in his South Philadelphia neighborhood of Pennsport, Dougherty is a tough-talking union leader who in January traded punches with a nonunion contractor.

The same Dougherty sponsored a series of big-name breakfasts at a restaurant on Broad Street - attended by members of the U.S. House and Senate - during the Democratic National Convention.

Now Dougherty, 56, and the union he has built into a political powerhouse, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are under federal investigation. Again.

Dougherty's influence, built on his union's campaign largesse, now stretches from City Hall to Harrisburg to to Washington, D.C.

The grandson of an eight-term state representative, Dougherty came up through St. Joseph's Preparatory School with peers who include former Mayor Michael Nutter and Mayor Kenney.

He graduated in 1978. College followed, but didn't stick for him.

Dougherty, with a new wife and daughter, dropped out of La Salle College and took a job as an apprentice for Local 98, starting his long climb in union politics.

Dougherty took control of the union as its business manager in 1993. He turned the electricians into one of the most powerful political entities in the region, supporting candidates for City Council and Congress with union funds and manpower.

Dougherty aligned himself politically with John F. Street, who as mayor appointed Dougherty chairman of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, greatly expanding his influence.

Along the way, Dougherty encouraged a small entourage of political apprentices, who used Local 98 as a launching pad for their own endeavors.

One was the union's political director, Bobby Henon, who now serves as majority leader for City Council. Federal agents raided Henon's City Hall and district offices Friday, too.

Dougherty is coming off his biggest year yet. Last fall, with the union's backing, Dougherty's younger brother, Kevin, was elected to the state Supreme Court; Kenney, a childhood friend, became mayor.

Dougherty gathered building trades unions to form Building a Better Pennsylvania, an "independent expenditure organization" that helped propel Brendan Boyle to the U.S. House in 2014. The group also raised more than $1 million to support Kenney in 2015.

Dougherty has spoken in the last year of "downsizing" his political ambitions, even as his field of influence flourished.

He ended his union's lavish Friday night party last year at Pennsylvania Society, the state's political soiree in Manhattan every December. That same month, he took over leadership of the Philadelphia Building and Constructions Trades Council, which represents nearly 40 unions in the city and surrounding suburbs.

Dougherty, part of the local cheerleading crew that lured the DNC to Philadelphia, vowed during the convention to deliver the "white 50-year-old labor guy" vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"I'm going to work my butt off to make sure she gets every vote she deserves," Dougherty said.

A former Democratic ward leader, Dougherty sometimes crosses the aisle to support Republican candidates as well. Former Gov. Tom Corbett and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum were beneficiaries.

And he adjusts to losing bets. Local 98 supported former U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor, but easily shifted allegiance to Tom Wolf after he prevailed in that race.

Friday's raid was not the first for Dougherty. Federal agents searched his home a decade ago, but never charged him with a crime.

That same year, he was forced out of the post as treasurer for the Democratic City Committee.

While his union pushed a "Draft Johnny Doc" campaign before the 2007 race for mayor, Dougherty ruled out a run. Instead, he ran in 2008 for a state Senate seat that opened when its holder, Vincent J. Fumo, was indicted on, and later convicted for, corruption charges.

Fumo backed the winner, Larry Farnese, who is now seeking a third term despite being indicted in March on federal corruption charges.



NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified locations associated with City Councilman Bobby Henon that were raided Friday by federal agents. Those agents searched Henon's City Hall and district offices.