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September 3, 2015

Johnny Doc to head building trades council

John Dougherty, leader of the politically powerful Electricians union in Philadelphia, expanded his sphere of influence Wednesday with a new title.

Dougherty was selected to succeed Pat Gillespie as head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents nearly 40 unions in Philadelphia and the suburbs.

Gillespie, who has served as business manager for the union coalition for 34 years, said he had wanted to retire by Nov. 23, his 70th birthday.

He will remain on the job until Dec. 1, when Dougherty takes over.

That will be just 28 days after one of the most important general elections in Dougherty’s career in politics. His younger brother, Kevin, administrative judge of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, is one of seven candidates for three seats on the state Supreme Court.

Dougherty, often called “Johnny Doc,” has led Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers since 1993. He is also Democratic leader of the First Ward in South Philadelphia.

Dougherty said Gillespie had served as his mentor, helping to shape his career.

“It’s personal,” he said of taking over for Gillespie. “It’s like a family thing.”

Dougherty repeatedly stressed that he will seek “consensus” among the trade unions.

Gillespie is in the second year of a four-year term that expires in August 2017. He said his labor group’s rules allowed him to select Dougherty to complete that term, a decision that was then endorsed by the unions.

“John is tremendously suited for the challenges that confront the building trades council,” Gillespie said. “I know he’ll do an outstanding job.”

Bernard Griggs Jr., a business representative for the Building and Construction Trades Council who started out in the Bricklayers union, also sought the job that Gillespie is leaving.

Griggs did not respond to requests for comment.

A 2014 analysis by The Inquirer found Local 98 had become the largest independent source of campaign contributions in Pennsylvania. The union had donated $25.6 million to political campaigns from 2000 to mid-2014, that analysis showed.

Local 98 expanded its approach to political involvement last year, taking advantage of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows “independent expenditure” groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they do not coordinate with campaigns or candidates for public office.

Local 98 helped launch a so-called IE Group, Building a Better Pennsylvania, funded by 13 building trades labor unions, that spent $354,032 in the last two weeks of the 2014 Democratic primary election for the U.S. House, supporting then-State Rep. Brendan Boyle and criticizing his four opponents.

Boyle won that race. Campaign finance reports later showed that Local 98 put up two-thirds of the money for the IE group.

The state arm of that IE group was active in this year’s Democratic primary election for mayor in Philadelphia. The group aired the first TV commercial, in support of former City Councilman Jim Kenney, who went on to win the primary.

Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund raised $1.8 million this year, according to campaign finance reports filed June 18, with $550,000 of that coming from Local 98.