What to Know
- John Dougherty has held sway over Democratic politics in Philadelphia since taking control of the local electricians’ union in the 1990s. Despite ups and downs, “Johnny Doc” has continued to oversee millions in political donations that affect local and state elections annually.
- Councilman Bobby Henon worked as an electrician in IBEW Local 98 before being elected. He remained with the union as a paid employee, which federal prosecutors allege was a no-show job that allowed Dougherty to use Henon as a conduit to power at City Hall.
- Philadelphia’s Streets commissioner testified at the corruption trial in the second week of the trial, and Mayor Kenney’s top labor negotiator will take the stand soon, exposing the intertwined power of Johnny Doc and city politics.
Carlton Williams, a former head of Philadelphia’s Licenses and Inspections Department who now runs the Streets Department, became the first high-ranking official to testify at the city’s biggest corruption trial in a decade.
He told federal prosecutors from the stand on Tuesday that Johnny “Doc” Dougherty, the longtime political force of labor unions in eastern Pennsylvania, threatened to “have me replaced” during a meeting in 2014.
His testimony was the most intimate portrait yet — in a trial expected to be full of them — to showcase how Dougherty, now 61, penetrated and thrived in the upper reaches of political power in Philadelphia and beyond.
He has long been the guy in the Mayor’s Reception Room at Philadelphia City Hall in construction boots and cargo shorts. In the neighborhoods, he’s the guy who’s not afraid to confront non-union contractors.
This trial in federal court, years in the making, is expected to lift the veil on his reach in Pennsylvania politics, where in recent years he helped put his brother, Kevin, on the state Supreme Court.
Whether or not you know who John Dougherty is, if you live in the greater Philadelphia area, the head of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 has had an effect on your life.
Here’s what has happened so far through nearly two weeks of the trial against Dougherty and Henon.
What Are the Charges Against Johnny Doc and Bobby Henon?
Dougherty, who has steered more than $30 million in union funds to political candidates over the years, faces a extortion trial over other union activities. He expressed confidence that he would clear his name as he arrived for jury selection Monday at the federal courthouse.
In another federal trial that will take place after the current one is finished, Dougherty and Henon will face the embezzlement charges.
In that case, the defendants, which include several IBEW Local 98 union employees and associates, misspent more than $600,000 in union funds, the indictment alleges.
Henon, a Democrat and former union electrician, has remained on the City Council since the 2019 indictment. Both he and Dougherty face 13 counts, including conspiracy and honest services fraud, and a maximum 20-year sentence on the most serious charge.
They remain free while the trial is ongoing and both have held onto their positions on City Council and at IBEW Local 98.
When Did the Trial Start and How Long Will It Last?
The trial began Oct. 4 with jury selection and opening statements by prosecutors and the men’s defense attorneys. In the week and a half since the start, prosecutors have called a few witnesses to the stand, including Williams, the Streets commissioner, and a Council staffer for Henon.
Philadelphia’s Deputy Mayor for Labor and Workforce Rich Lazer, one of Mayor Jim Kenney’s top advisors, was expected to be called to testify by prosecutors soon as well.
The trial will take four to six weeks, court officials have said.
When Did Federal Prosecutors Go After Dougherty and Henon?
In January 2019, the FBI arrested Dougherty and Henon and charged them with dozens of counts related to public corruption and embezzlement of union funds. In November 2020, a federal judge ruled that there would be two separate trials: one for the corruption charges and another for the embezzlement charges.
The case was a culmination of years of investigations by the FBI into Dougherty and IBEW Local 98.
At the center of the current corruption trial, prosecutors have alleged that Dougherty helped propel Henon into a powerful leadership position on the Philadelphia City Council to apply pressure to other trade groups and businesses.
“I don’t give a f— about anybody, all right, but f—ing you and us, and you know that,” Henon told Dougherty in 2015 when reassuring him about their quid pro quo relationship, according to the indictment.
Dougherty has exuded confidence during the first two weeks of his corruption, telling reporters outside the federal courthouse on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia that he would clear his name.
“I have had zero crimes,” Dougherty said, making a zero with his hand for emphasis. “So this is a relief. I can’t wait to get in and get this done.”
What Is Johnny Doc Known for in Philly Politics?
– Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation: Look no further to see the scope of Johnny Doc’s power than Pennsylvania’s current delegation serving in Washington D.C. The dots aren’t hard to connect. A.) John Dougherty’s union spends hundreds of thousands of dollars through political action committees on the 2015 campaign of his brother Kevin Dougherty, the state Supreme Court justice. B.) Kevin, a Democrat, is elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in an election that gives Democrats a 5-2 advantage on the state’s highest bench. C.) The court rules that the Republican-majority Legislature’s congressional map is unconstitutional, and must be redrawn. Eventually, it redraws the map itself. D.) Democrats rejoice, then take nine seats in the 2018 midterm election.
– The cost of soda in Philly: Fellow indictee, Councilman Bobby Henon, was the promoter of a soda tax back in 2015, even before Jim Kenney was elected mayor and ushered through what became Kenney’s defining legislation: the sugary beverage tax. It is helping pay for universal pre-K and a $500 million initiative called Rebuild, which is dedicated to renovating city rec centers and libraries and involves lots of union labor. Henon sits on the Rebuild board.
– Blue-Collar pay: Johnny Doc is not only in charge of IBEW Local 98. He also sits atop the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, an umbrella group for dozens of labor unions. Whether it’s strong-arm tactics, ratmobiles, or behind-the-scenes legislative efforts, Johnny Doc has kept developers and big corporations from subverting organized labor’s wages with non-union workers.
– Semi-dark money in local elections: Dougherty deploys political action committees, ie PACs, as conduits for donations to candidates across the spectrum, whether it’s for mayor, congress, or even district attorney.