Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke received campaign cash and encouragement to enter next year's race for mayor at an Old City fund-raiser Tuesday evening hosted by his ally John J. Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the Electricians union.
"I'm a big fan of him running for mayor," Dougherty said. "He's such a steady, tenured leader with a lot of balance - and that's a word you don't hear much in politics. People respect him."
About 150 movers and shakers stopped by the reception at La Famiglia Ristorante, where they heard Dougherty express the hope that Clarke would be a "little bit selfish" when it comes to 2015.
Under the City Charter, if he decides to become a candidate for mayor, Clarke would have to give up his Fifth District Council seat and the presidency of the legislative body. He has been cagey about his plans.
"Lot of friends here, looking to be supportive," Clarke said, smiling as he surveyed the crowd. "I've been around a long time."
He said he was focused on the school-funding crisis and on trying to shape the deal selling Philadelphia Gas Works (though Clarke said earlier Tuesday that legislation on the sale would not be introduced before Council's summer recess), as well as on an affordable-housing initiative he has created with the help of the building-trades unions.
"Discussing next year would take away from all these legislative issues," Clarke said. "I realize that sounds like a whole lot of you know what, but it's true. We've got to stay focused."
Of course, a large war chest benefits Clarke regardless of his course. And it does not hurt Dougherty to be helpful to a leader who - at a minimum - would likely remain Council president.
Local 98 has poured $25.6 million into political races since 2000, according to an Inquirer analysis published last month - a sum greater than that contributed by traditional deep-pocketed powers such as the trial lawyers, teacher unions, and even Marcellus Shale gas drillers.
Though the local is relatively small, with 3,800 members, it has become the largest single giver in Pennsylvania politics, and Dougherty one of the state's most respected - and feared - Democratic leaders.
The union's cash and its manpower have helped elect mayors, City Council members, county commissioners, congressmen, state legislators, governors, and 58 judges, including Dougherty's brother - not to mention five of the seven justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Council members Bobby Henon, Jannie L. Blackwell, and Blondell Reynolds Brown were at the fund-raiser, along with Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci and several ward leaders.
Labor was well represented: Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; Keith Holmes of the gas workers union; Joe Schulle of the firefighters; and Boise Butler, president of Local 1291 of the International Longshoremen's Association.
Dougherty said he realizes that the qualities he sees in Clarke may militate against him seeking the mayoralty, but that he hopes his ally seriously considers it. "He combines the best of John Street and Ed Rendell," Dougherty said.
"Knowing Darrell, I know it might be difficult for him to run, but it would be good for Philadelphia."
As for Clarke, he said he appreciated the encouragement but added, "There are a lot of ways to move the city forward."