John Dougherty worked a BlackBerry and a flip phone, gathering intelligence and transmitting orders Tuesday morning as reinforcements filtered into the Edward O'Malley Recreation Center in South Philadelphia. They would be the second wave of Local 98's Democratic primary operation.
"Yo, you and Nico, are you in the truck?" Dougherty said. "How far are you? OK. Come back to EOM and grab some of these shirts and hats."
Soon, piles of red shirts and mesh trucker hats advertising First District Council candidate Mark Squilla - and green ones touting at-large Councilman Bill Green - were speeding toward 10th and Dickinson Streets.
Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Democratic leader of the First Ward, was not on the ballot. But he had a lot on the line - namely, the chance to shape Philadelphia's next City Council, increasing his own influence and opportunities for his union members.
His organization was trying to pump turnout and man polling stations for a slate of five Council allies and a handful of judicial candidates.
First on the list was Bobby Henon, Local 98's longtime political director, running for the Sixth District Council seat in the Northeast. Then came Squilla, whom Dougherty backed over three other contenders who had been, at one time or another, allies; Seventh District Council candidate Danny Savage, taking on incumbent Maria Quiñones-Sánchez; Green, viewed by many as a leading contender for mayor in 2015; and Eddie Nesmith, an at-large candidate and the leader of the Second Ward.
Johnny Doc, as he is known, has come full circle in his political career. He was treasurer of the Democratic City Committee for a time earlier in the decade, but fell out with the leadership and went his own way for a while as an independent power broker - and annoyance to Rep. Bob Brady, the party chairman. After losing a bid for the state Senate in 2008, his only try at elective office, Dougherty fought to get himself elected ward leader last year, making him a part of the city committee again.
"What is Doc up to?" has been a perennial question in Philadelphia politics. To hear him tell it, the answer is simple.
In a primary-day pep talk, kind of his own version of the fabled St. Crispin's Day speech in Shakespeare's Henry V - the one about the "band of brothers" forged in war - Doc urged the assembled union members, many wearing "Local 98 Votes" T-shirts, to vote for themselves, for the neighborhood, for the middle class.
Sure, he said, it's important to balance the city budget and have progressive policies and all that, but the election was really about a way of life.
"This is our time," Dougherty told his men and women. "Nobody does what we do, you know that." If Squilla and Henon won, he said, two union-friendly councilmen would represent the waterfront, from the Walt Whitman Bridge to Bucks County.
"They'll get up every day thinking about economic development," Dougherty said. "That's what we do. We build buildings, OK? This is about voting your job."
To achieve his goals, Dougherty said in an interview, he wants to block Mayor Nutter's choice for Council president, Marian B. Tasco of Northwest Philadelphia. He likes Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, who has pushed development in his North Philadelphia district, where construction is booming around Temple University.
As for Tasco, "I just don't think she pays attention to details the way Darrell does."
A few minutes later, Dougherty answered the phone again, talking to somebody named Mikey. "Yo, where's Sneaker Pete today?" he said. "We've got to get him moving around."
It was a reference to Pete Thompson, a local DJ who drives a rehabbed ice-cream van outfitted with loudspeakers from which he blasts music and messages in every election Local 98 works. Soon, Sneaker Pete rolled up to the rec center for new deployment orders.
Dougherty then headed off for the Northeast in a beetle-black Mercury Marquis, to oversee get-out-the-vote efforts for Henon. He carried a worn chunk of blackthorne - the remnants, he said, of a shillelagh carried by William J. Green, the late congressman, father of the former mayor, and grandfather of the current councilman.
No, Dougherty said, he wasn't going to whack anybody with it.
Things looked to be going well. Dougherty gleefully took reports that the union's lawyers had succeeded in getting 1,700 sample ballots for Henon's opponent, Marty Bednarek, impounded for failure to include a required disclaimer. Every little bit helps.
"You've been more excited about Bobby than you were about yourself," said Brian Stevenson, a business agent for Local 98, who was driving Dougherty in the black Marquis as he made his electoral rounds.
"He's my boy," Dougherty said.
Dougherty, who has been mentioned with admiration and horror at various times as a potential mayoral candidate himself, said all of that talk was now in his rearview mirror.
"The days of me running for things are over," he said. "I think that I'm more comfortable where I'm at."
Read his blog, "The Big Tent,"