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Smart money: Johnny Doc backs three winners

His name wasn't on a ballot, but labor leader John Dougherty emerged as a big winner in Tuesday's primary election.

His name wasn't on a ballot, but labor leader John Dougherty emerged as a big winner in Tuesday's primary election.

Dougherty - the politically savvy business manager of Electricians' Local 98 - celebrated last night as longtime aide Bobby Henon won the Democratic primary for the Nrtheast 6th Councilmanic District in the Northeast.

Two other Council candidates he supported also won.

"I believe Bobby Henon, for all the stereotypes that the negative people and naysayers have, Bobby Henon is a breath of fresh air," Dougherty said during an interview Monday.

Of course, what's good for Henon is good for Dougherty, commonly known as "Johnny Doc," who has grown his 4,000-member union into a major political power over the past decade.

Supporting a trio of winning Council candidates comes on the heels of several successful political moves by Dougherty, including running for ward leader and diving into policy battles at the Delaware River Port Authority and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

According to Dougherty, all these efforts are in the service of his members. But with former state Sen. Vince Fumo in prison, former Gov. Rendell out of office and Mayor Nutter heading into his second term, there's definitely room for Dougherty's role as powerbroker to expand.

"My neighborhood's been very successful, my union's been very successful," Dougherty said. "I get calls to run for mayor every week."

Henon has the closest political ties to the union since former Councilman Rick Mariano, an electrician elected in 1994 with the union's help. Mariano went to prison in 2006 on corruption charges.

The union also gave major support to at-large Councilman Bill Green and newcomer Mark Squilla, who won the Democratic primary in South Philadelphia's 1st Councilmanic District.

Dougherty said he'll have no day-to-day involvement in Henon's office. But Tuesday's results clearly beg the question: is a Dougherty bloc on shaping up on Council?

Political analyst Larry Ceisler, a longtime friend, said that Dougherty has always had friends and allies on Council.

"John's had a pretty good record over the years in electoral politics. I think this is more of the same. I don't see the Dougherty bloc," Ceisler said.

The first real measure of Dougherty's influence will likely be the battle for the Council presidency. Council members Marian Tasco and Darrell Clarke are vying for the position. Dougherty had strong praise for Clarke this week.

"I think he's proven he's able to build consensus. I think we can do a lot worse than have Darrell council president," Dougherty said.

Dougherty's troops fanned out across Philadelphia Tuesday. The union, which takes sizeable payroll deductions from its members to support its political work, has one of the richest political committees in the state.

But Local 98 was a focus of action last month by the mayor and City Council to close a loophole that allowed political-action committees to contribute to candidates in amounts exceeding the legal limit of $10,600.

Both this year and last, Local 98's main PAC, the Committee on Political Education, had given substantially to several obscure PACs that then made contributions to 98's favored candidates. Dougherty maintains that the union did nothing wrong and will continue to be a financial powerhouse in the future.

"They can change all the laws they want," Dougherty said.

Looking ahead, insiders want to know how Dougherty will flex his muscles on Council and in the 2015 mayoral election. And while Dougherty isn't committing to a candidate just yet, he made it clear that he won't be staying on the sidelines during the run-up to the mayor's race, although he says a run is not in his own future.

"I think this next mayoral election will be the most important mayoral election in the history of Philadelphia," Dougherty said. "You're going to need a strong, strong person."