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Why are so many Philly politicians throwing support behind a Pittsburgh guy?
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has clinched the support of Mayor Jim Kenney, state Sen. Anthony Williams, a number of Philly council members and state representatives, and he even won the endorsement of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee. Kenney and Williams, former mayoral foes, even appeared in a campaign ad together in support of Zappala.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, Zappala’s biggest competition in the Democratic primary, has the endorsement of City Council President Darrell Clarke, Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey and a laundry list of local interest groups and other politicians.
What it all comes down to for the people supporting a western PA candidate for statewide office, even though they could get behind a guy from around here? Officially, the pols say it’s experience. Zappala has prosecutorial experience while Shapiro does not.
But there are also ties that bind Zappala to Philadelphia politicians. And it all comes back to Philly union boss John Dougherty, whose brother won a spot on the state Supreme Court after support from Zappala and his family.
Dougherty, the business manager of the Philly-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, is also the head of the building trades unions here in Philadelphia and wields significant political power. He and his union bankrolled the successful mayoral campaign of Jim Kenney, donated thousands to help Dougherty get his brother Kevin elected to the state Supreme Court and have poured more money and resources into electing candidates than any other group in the state.
Campaign finance reports show IBEW Local 98 donated $130,000 to Zappala’s campaign by April 8. The Pittsburgh arm of IBEW kicked in $30,000, and other building trades unions in Philadelphia donated significant funds to Zappala as he aims to clinch the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
That’s a significant portion of his cash. Democratic candidates have raised more than $5 million combined, or 10 times what two Republicans running in their own primary have. Shapiro, who has the endorsement of President Obama and other establishment types, still has the most with $2.65 million raised through April 20. Zappala had raised $1.9 million while Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli had raised $730,000.
But why did Dougherty and IBEW back Zappala instead of Shapiro? It may have something to do with a little political payback.
The Zappala name in western Pennsylvania is an influential one. Like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh has powerful political families who know the big fundraisers, and the rich donors and are generally well-liked and trusted by constituents.
Zappala, the attorney general candidate, has been the Allegheny County district attorney for the better part of two decades. His father, Stephen Zappala Sr., sat on the state Supreme Court for 20 years beginning in 1983 and served as the chief justice of the court at the end of his tenure.
Their influence in the region came in handy last year when Kevin Dougherty, John’s brother, was running as a Democratic candidate for the state Supreme Court, a post that he’d need statewide support to win. Zappala Sr. appeared in a television ad for Kevin Dougherty in October, saying he was supporting the Supreme Court candidate — and that it was the first time he’d ever publicly endorsed someone for political office.
Zappala Jr. also endorsed Kevin Dougherty to boost his base in western Pennsylvania. And Zappala Jr., along with other prominent Allegheny County authorities, hosted at least one fundraiser for Dougherty in Pittsburgh.
John Dougherty hasn’t made a formal endorsement of Zappala. And Zappala’s campaign spokesman Marty Marks pointed out to PoliticsPA that other Dougherty allies who worked with Kenney, including consultant Ken Snyder and pollster Anna Greenberg, are also working on Zappala’s campaign.
The campaign has said there was no quid pro quo between the two parties and that Dougherty didn’t support Zappala’s campaign for attorney general because his family helped Dougherty’s brother win a seat on the state Supreme Court. Marks told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “there was no discussion” about Zappala running for attorney general while Kevin Dougherty was making his way toward the Supreme Court.
But a well-placed campaign ad and a $130,000 donation may suggest otherwise.