John Dougherty

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

Updated 2 p.m.

In no fewer than 160 pages, federal officials on Wednesday released a 116-count criminal indictment of John J. Dougherty Jr., head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 union, as well as sitting City Councilman Bobby Henon and six other co-defendants.

Why should you care about this sweeping takedown?


Known almost universally as “Johnny Doc,” Dougherty is potentially the most powerful non-elected person in Philadelphia. The labor leader has been a political juggernaut since the 90s, with influence that stretches from City Council to the state Supreme Court to the federal government.

He’s one of the last old-school political bosses in the United States

Since 1993, Dougherty has been the business manager for IBEW Local 98, a Philly-based, 5,000-member union that over the years has become the largest independent source of campaign money in Pennsylvania.

For nearly two decades, Doc helped dump tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns by way of Local 98. His monetary aid and glad-handing of both Democrats and Republicans, from those hoping for a seat in the Oval Office to those longing for influence in City Hall, afforded him tentacles that have encircled dozens of prominent offices at both local and national levels.

Politicians Doc has supported include President Barack Obama, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Governor Tom Wolf, Congressman Bob Brady, former Senator Rick Santorum, Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty (his brother), Congressman Dwight Evans, former Mayor Michael Nutter, Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilman Bobby Henon, Representative Kevin J. Boyle, Pa. and a slew of other state representatives, city commissioners and council members.

Shortly before announcing he was “getting out of politics a little bit” in January 2016, Doc was selected as the head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.

Fat cats and inflatable rats (and drones too)

IBEW Local 98 may not have been the first to pioneer the usage of inflatable rats to protest nonunion building sites, but it’s thanks to Dougherty and crew that their grotesquerie has become a city fixture.

In 2013, Doc upped the organized labor-protest game by transforming a plain minivan into a horrifying Rat-Mobile, which he intended to use to follow “wherever some fat cats are that abuse workers” in Philly proper and on the Jersey Shore.

When Dougherty wasn’t scheming to use rodents for intimidation purposes, he was using robots.

In February 2016, Local 98 revealed in a YouTube video that it had obtained a fleet of drones to hover over and survey disputed work sites. They called this aerial strategy “plane ingenious.”

YouTube video

A month later, The Inquirer reported that the program not only may have violated federal airspace regulations, it also may have been intended to inform reports of unlicensed or undocumented workers to labor and immigration agencies. Erika Almiron, executive director of Latinx immigrant services nonprofit Juntos, said the plan appeared to be “pure racial profiling.”

Here’s Johnny! A history of worksite violence

“Local 98 is the most powerful and most feared political entity in Philadelphia and maybe the state,” Zack Stalberg, former head of Committee of Seventy, told The Inquirer in 2014. “That’s mostly because of the campaign contributions and somewhat because of the people that they can put on the street to help a candidate — and also because Doc is extremely smart and focused on having that most powerful role.”

Doc has apparently always seen fear as a tool, saying in 2001 to a reporter at WHYY, “Fear is not a bad thing to have on your side.”

How has he incited that fear and used it to his advantage? At times, by coming to blows with non-union construction workers and allegedly spewing racial slurs at them.

At a South Philadelphia construction site in January 2016, an altercation erupted between Doc and Joshua Keese, a Native American who had been employed by developer MCON in August of the previous year. Keese claimed that Dougherty first intimidated him at the construction site on Third and Reed streets over a Local 98 sticker, which, per Keese, was already on the rear window of his truck when he bought it. Doc asked Keese to scrape off the sticker and squared up with three other Local 98 members.

One verbal tirade led to another (per Dougherty, Keese threatened his family), and soon Doc was telling Keese “We don’t want n****** here.” Per the suit filed on behalf of MCON and Keese, the union leader punched the plaintiff twice in the face, breaking his nose in the process.

The outcome of the litigation went in Doc’s favor.

Doc and Kenney: Bros from South Philly

Dougherty was one of Jim Kenney’s key backers during his mayoral campaign. Local 98 contributed $550,000 to Building a Better PA, a PAC that helped put Kenney in office in 2015.

But their complex relationship goes way back — to their childhood in South Philadelphia.

First off, they’re family. They may not be related by blood, but Doc’s mother is Kenney’s godmother, and Kenney’s father is Doc’s sister’s godfather. (And for these good Irish Catholics, that connection is meaningful.)

Secondly, Dougherty attended St. Joseph’s Preparatory School — the same high school as Kenney — and went to La Salle University, the same college as Kenney.

Their bromance hasn’t always been amicable. They had a falling out of sorts in the last decade or two due to political tension and personal pride. Kenney was a protégé of former state Senator Vince Fumo, a rival of Doc’s (who later was found guilty in 2009 of 137 counts of corruption and sentenced to 55 months in prison).

Nevertheless, Doc has always asserted that Kenney “is basically family.”

The relatively recent mended relationship has been mutually beneficial — Kenney was able to use Dougherty’s resources and influences during his campaign, while Doc was able to push the soda tax for the good of his union. The soda tax provides more funding for city renovation projects, and therefore, more work for Local 98 members.

“If you fuck with my boy, I’ll fuck with you”

Once the political director of Local 98 and a board member of the Electrical Mechanical Association, Robert “Bobby” Henon has been a councilman for the 6th District since 2011.

Henon, an electrician by trade, was elected thanks to major support from the union — and, more specifically, Doc’s controversial hardball tactics.

Dougherty, infuriated when City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione supported the candidate running against Henon for a Council seat, publicly withdrew his support of her.

Remember when we foreshadowed that Doc is Philadelphia’s most powerful unelected politician? Without the union leader’s support, Tartaglione ended up losing.

Doc’s allyship with the councilman didn’t stop there. When the soda tax was being debated, with Henon pushing for its passage, Dougherty was reported to have said to opponents of the tax, “If you fuck with my boy, I’ll fuck with you.” (He later denied using that language.)

Unknown at the time is that Dougherty’s involvement in the soda tax was allegedly far more personal. This week’s federal indictment claimed that Dougherty backed the soda tax in order to get even with a political enemy — the Teamster’s union.

“Let me tell you what Bobby Henon’s going to do, and he’s already talked to [elected local public official],” Dougherty told an IBEW official in May 2015, according to the indictment. “They’re going to start to put a tax on soda again and that will cost the Teamsters 100 jobs in Philly.”

Henon has been paid anywhere from $70,000 to $74,000 annually for undisclosed union work annually — in addition to his $138,890 City Council salary. Allegations about Henon doing Doc’s direct bidding in City Hall have yet to play out, but new scrutiny has already been heaped on the soda tax.

Henon, meanwhile, maintains he’s done nothing wrong.

8 names, 116 counts of public corruption

Just a week after the Democratic National Convention packed up and left town in the summer of 2016, the FBI raided the headquarters of Local 98, as well as six other locations across Philadelphia (two were previously mentioned).

The Inquirer, citing an anonymous source, reported afterward that the investigation, “focused on the union’s finances and its involvement in the political campaigns of Mayor Kenney and state Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, who is Dougherty’s brother.”

We now know that the years-long probe was far more in-depth.

There are 116 criminal counts, including embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars, repurposing union workers for personal errands, taking bribes and falsification of federal income tax reports, charged against those named in the federal indictment handed down on Jan. 30, 2019.

That same day, a statement on behalf of John J. Dougherty, Jr. was released:

“For twenty-five years John has devoted all of his energies to Local 98 and to those working in the trades in Philadelphia. Everyday his focus is on his family and his other family, IBEW Local 98. Every move he makes is done in order to better the lives of the membership of Local 98. And the dramatic increase in wages, health care benefits and the overall standard of living for the membership is a testament to that singular focus. To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the Union he cares about so deeply is preposterous. He looks forward to his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name.”

All eight defendants are scheduled to appear before a judge on Friday, Feb. 1 at 1:30 p.m.

If convicted of all the charges, Doc could spend decades in prison.