The Democratic primary election is still more than six weeks away and all the available polls show Mayor Jim Kenney with a sizable lead over two competitors. But his allies in the city’s building trades unions aren’t taking any chances.
Philly 2019, a new independent expenditure political action committee, on Wednesday launched a week of broadcast and cable television ads, paying $130,732 to push for Kenney’s reelection.
Philly 2019′s chairman is Anthony Gallagher, business manager for Steamfitters Local 420 and an ally of John “Johnny Doc" Dougherty, leader of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.
Dougherty, of course, is also leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He, along with City Councilman Bobby Henon and several other Local 98 officials, was indicted on Jan. 30, accused of embezzling more than $600,000 from the union from 2010 to 2016. Dougherty and the others have pleaded not guilty and vow to fight the charges.
Gallagher confirmed that Philly 2019 is a building trades effort but said others are getting involved as well.
Jordan Marks, a Philly 2019 spokesperson, said Local 98 has not invested any money so far in the effort. Asked if the union would contribute in the future, he said: “That’s up to Local 98.”
Local 98 spokesperson Frank Keel, in an email, said only that the union “will be involved in every aspect of the electoral process.”
It has money to spare. Local 98′s own political action committee ended 2018 with nearly $7.2 million in the bank.
Local 98 gave more than $500,000 in 2015 to another independent expenditure PAC, Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund, which spent $1.8 million to help Kenney win the primary election for mayor.
Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund also paid for polling in the race in January, releasing the results when they looked strong for Kenney and not so great for challengers State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
And Dougherty, despite the federal indictments, remains politically plugged in as ever. He sat in last week as the policy committee of the city’s Democratic Party interviewed candidates seeking endorsements. Dougherty later said he was warmly welcomed by party leaders.
A spokesperson for Kenney’s campaign declined to comment on the ads. But Kenney, on the day the indictments were released, said he would continue to accept political and financial support from Local 98.
The new television ads will certainly help Kenney, who has been running an undercover campaign, steering clear of public political events.
There is a curious line about City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell in campaign literature circulating in West Philadelphia. It says she “has built strong relationships with Philly’s real estate developers.”
That was paid for by Philadelphia 3.0, an independent expenditure PAC that has endorsed Blackwell’s Democratic primary challenger, Jamie Gauthier.
A little history about Philadelphia 3.0: The PAC was born in late 2014 in the boardroom of Parkway Corp., a real estate developer. It has accepted big-dollar donations from developers. But we can’t say where all the money comes from.
Philadelphia 3.0, which pitches itself as reform-motivated, spent more than $500,000 in the 2015 City Council races. But seven of every 10 dollars it raised were “dark money," donated to an affiliated nonprofit that doesn’t disclose donors, which then transferred it to the PAC.
Ali Perelman, the PAC’s executive director, said the literature was “neutral” and “expressly designed not to promote either candidate," but to raise awareness about the race.
Blackwell isn’t buying it. Gentrification is a controversial topic in the 3rd District, where she is seeking a seventh term. Still, she shrugged off the PAC painting her as cozy with developers.
“People say what they want,” Blackwell said. “It’s America. They’re just trying to make that up, trying to put me down."
State Sen. Daylin Leach continues to receive the persona non grata treatment, this time from the Lower Merion School District, which invited and then disinvited him from a legislative forum Monday.
Melissa Gilbert, president of the school board, asked him not to attend so the focus could be on education and “was not derailed by the controversy surrounding Sen. Leach,” a spokesperson said.
Leach has been drawing protesters at events since a Lehigh County woman accused him of luring her into performing oral sex on him in 1991 when she was 17 and he was a lawyer representing her mother in an attempted-murder case. The Senate Democratic caucus is investigating.
Leach denies the allegations and in February sued his accuser, Cara Taylor, along with two Philadelphia-area activists, saying they had defamed him.
Leach, in a statement, said Gilbert did “a disservice to the community" with the dis-invitation. “After all, I am a member of the Senate Education Committee and have long been a champion for education issues in the state legislature,” he said.
The Montgomery County Democratic Committee last month called on Leach to resign, saying his behavior since he was accused has “created a divisiveness that threatens party harmony.” The Delaware County Democratic Committee in February also called for Leach to resign and declared him ineligible for future endorsements. Leach is up for reelection next year.