We call it the Clout hot seat — three questions we ask as many pols as possible on election days. Some are evocative, some are equivocal.

Tuesday was a day for equivocation. And we think we know why. Our questions:

  • Who will be the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2023?
  • Who will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020?
  • Will John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty be convicted, acquitted, or plead guilty in the federal case against him and seven other officials from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers?

During political luncheons at the Famous 4th Street Deli and Relish, we posed those questions to 18 people, including one mayor, eight members of City Council, two state representatives, one city controller, and one Pennsylvania attorney general.

On Dougherty’s fate, 14 of them dodged the question, one predicted an acquittal, one predicted a plea deal, and one said it would be a conviction or guilty plea. Dougherty and his codefendants, including Councilman Bobby Henon, have pleaded not guilty.

On the question of mayoral candidates, the names of Council members Cherelle Parker, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Cindy Bass, and Allan Domb came up. There was strong interest in a woman as the nominee.

And for presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden’s name was mentioned as a possibility eight times while seven other respondents were sure he’d win the primaries.

A selection of the answers:

Mayor Jim Kenney declined to speculate on the next Democratic mayoral nominee, called Biden the front-runner for 2020, and said he had no idea about Dougherty. “That’s kind of a crazy question,” he added.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said it was too early on mayoral or presidential politics and — as the state’s top law enforcement officer — demurred on predicting Dougherty’s fate. You just know Shapiro wanted one of the questions to be: “Who will be Pennsylvania’s next governor?” He’s got a guess for that one, we’re sure.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart didn’t want to guess on mayoral politics, noted that Biden is very popular early in the process, and as to Dougherty, offered this: “He’s gotten out of it so far. But the feds usually have good cases. I don’t know.”

City Commissioners Chairwoman Lisa Deeley dodged on the 2023 mayoral primary, called 2020 for Biden and predicted Dougherty will be acquitted.

Former State Sen. Vince Fumo, who spent a couple of years in federal prison on corruption charges and has waged political war with Dougherty, predicted Domb as the next mayoral nominee (while declining to comment on rumors that he’s been advising Domb). Fumo was also certain on Biden’s landing the nomination. He split on Dougherty: “I know he’s not going to be found not guilty. The question is: What kind of deal will they offer him?”

Former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III, left, is rumored to be considering a 2020 primary challenge to the political ally who holds Stack's former seat in the state Senate, John Sabatina Jr., right.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer; JohnSabatina.com
Former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III, left, is rumored to be considering a 2020 primary challenge to the political ally who holds Stack's former seat in the state Senate, John Sabatina Jr., right.

The Mike Stack III comeback plan, chapter 2?

Former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III, while dropping out of the Democratic primary for City Council at-large in March, announced that he would work to “build party unity for this election and the elections in 2020.”

So why would Stack target an ally who holds the state Senate seat he once held? That was the rumor raging this week — with predictions that Stack will challenge State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. in the 2020 primary.

Sabatina and his father, 56th Ward Leader John Sabatina Sr., have heard the talk but haven’t heard from Stack.

“I just don’t know how it could come to be,” said Sabatina the younger.

“I wouldn’t know what he has in his mind,” added Sabatina the elder.

Fumo, who helped elect Stack to the Senate, sees a potentially hot race.

“With him vs. Stack, it could be a very close election,” Fumo said. “People are telling me Stack can win.”

Stack held the 5th District seat, which covers most of Northeast Philly, for 13 years. He even toyed with the idea of keeping that seat after he was elected lieutenant governor in 2014.

Fumo said Stack should have never run for lieutenant governor, which was calamitous for his political career. He lost his 2018 primary for reelection after he and his wife were accused of mistreating their state police security detail and employees at the lieutenant governor’s residence.

If Stack had stayed in the Senate, he could be minority leader by now, Fumo said.

There would be a clear winner in a clash between Stack and Sabatina — the Boyle brothers. U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and State Rep. Kevin Boyle have fought a Democratic civil war against the combined forces of Stack and Sabatina in the Northeast for years. Any friction benefits them.

Philadelphia Democratic primary voters saw a sign Tuesday saying votes for Willie Singletary, a former Traffic Court judge who went to federal prison for lying to the FBI, would not be counted. And then 17,691 of them voted for him anyway for City Council at-large.
CHRIS BRENNAN / Staff Writer
Philadelphia Democratic primary voters saw a sign Tuesday saying votes for Willie Singletary, a former Traffic Court judge who went to federal prison for lying to the FBI, would not be counted. And then 17,691 of them voted for him anyway for City Council at-large.

The #Willie4Philly constituency

Running for City Council at large in a crowded Democratic primary is demanding. Losing to a candidate who was booted from the ballot must be demoralizing.

Willie Singletary, the former Traffic Court judge who went to federal prison for lying to the FBI in a corruption probe, won more votes Tuesday than 18 of the 28 Democrats running. Not that it matters. A judge removed him from the ballot in March because certain felons can’t hold public office in the state.

The Board of Elections left Singletary on the ballot as he unsuccessfully appealed that decision to higher courts. It posted signs in voting booths Tuesday warning votes for Singletary would not be counted. Still, 17,691 people voted for him. Because, of course.