It was just the other day that we were talking about the moral bankruptcy of the national Democratic Party when it came to addressing its internal problems and connecting with rank-and-file voters. But the truth is, the Beltway Dems are moral billionaires when compared to their counterparts here in Philadelphia -- even the ones who aren't currently facing jail time or an indictment. The behind-the-scenes force in Philly politics in recent years has been labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty of the electricians' union, whose backing was critical to getting his childhood pal and on-again, off-again adult buddy Jim Kenney elected last year as Philadelphia's 99th (and probably last) mayor.
There's little doubt that Kenney and Johnny Doc didn't deliver enough area votes to save their ostensible endorsee in the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton. That was especially true in the mostly blue-collar zip codes of Bucks County and Delaware County where, truth be told, the lion's share of Doc's Local 98 members live (not to mention South Jersey.) To the union boss, there's only one answer: Be like Don:
And I have to credit a conservative talk radio host, WPHT's Dom Giordano, for breaking what may prove to be one of the more significant local political stories of 2017, in an op-ed that appeared in today's Daily News. Here's an excerpt:
Dougherty's main contention in both the letter and the interview was that the national Democratic Party has lost its focus on economic issues and a better way of life for the middle class.
"The Democratic Party has become almost solely based on cultural liberalism," he said.
He blamed this for Hillary Clinton's loss in the presidential race to Donald Trump and was very disturbed that Democrats re-elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California to the position of House Minority Leader. Dougherty said he much preferred Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who lost to Pelosi and thinks the Democrats must get back to emphasizing jobs and economic issues.
I don't think the Democratic Party can change its focus. It is the party of Black Lives Matter, and I'm convinced Clinton did not fill out the pre-election survey from the national Fraternal Order of Police about key issues because she couldn't have the cops' back. The FOP endorsed Trump, and this helped with other unions.
Dougherty echoed a lot of this. In his letter, he wrote: "Although we were all disappointed that our endorsed candidate didn't win, we will work well with the Trump administration. In fact, we will look forward to working with the Trump administration. In fact, we look forward to working with the Trump administration on issues like infrastructure, energy and undocumented workers."
The Dougherty letter is fascinating, but that's not all. His prime patron, Kenney -- who back in the good old days of 2016 lashed out at Trump, calling him a "nincompoop" -- suddenly wants to meet with Trump now that he's been elected Nincompoop-in-Chief.
Anyone so Twitter-obsessed to be on the social network at 6:36 p.m. on Christmas Eve (!) would have snagged this plea from Philly's mayor to the president-elect:
Coincidence? Look, I've called for massive resistance to Trump and his warped agenda, and a lot of folks in the groups that Dougherty and Kenney are supposed to lead -- labor unions and Democrats -- feel the same way. But, at least in Kenney's case, I know life's more complicated as an elected official. And heck, I'd also like to meet with Donald Trump right now, too, although my questions for him would probably be a little different.
At the moment, though, I have more questions for Mayor Kenney and for Johnny Doc (whose members -- some folks have told me -- weren't subtle in backing Trump in some suburban precincts despite Local 98's stated support for Clinton). Such as...
-- Do you really think, Johnny Doc, that "cultural liberalism" has failed the Democratic Party after your on-again ally, Kenney, went from perceived Fumocrat apparatchik to landslide-elected mayor of Philadelphia only after his full-throated embrace of immigrants' rights, pot decriminalization, ending "stop-and-frisk" (on the same page with Black Lives Matter), and the LGBTQ cause?
-- On that same point, do you really think bashing "cultural liberalism" is a good look for Philadelphia's top trade-union leader, since said trade unions have a shameful history going back decades upon decades of excluding blacks, Latinos, women and other non-white dudes, a situation that is still not great in 2017, more than eight years after America elected a black president?
-- Does your letter, Mr. Dougherty, with its knock on undocumented immigrants, mean that you'll be lobbying Mayor Kenney to drop his staunch support for keeping Philadelphia as a "Sanctuary City" that protects immigrant communities? And Mayor Kenney, in your surprisingly fawning request to meet with the president-elect, was there any hint that you might shift gears on that policy, as Trump and his allies have demanded? Are you aware that such a move would shatter the trust of the electoral base that elected you in 2015 -- a base that you'll need to cling to while conservatives lash you with soda-tax receipts for the next three years?
-- Back to you, Johnny Doc...what have you actually seen in Donald Trump, who appointed an overtime-busting fast food exec as his Secretary of Labor and who filled his cabinet with wage-squeezing executives from Wall Street and Big Oil, that makes you think he'll be a friend to the working man and woman in this country?
-- And the last question pertains to this: The investigation that was launched in the last year of the Obama administration's Justice Department, concerning Dougherty and the electricians' union's political activities. You remember it, Mr. Dougherty: The one where, and I quote a recent Inquirer article, "FBI agents fanned out across the city in August to serve search warrants on more than a dozen union offices and other sites tied to Dougherty and his close allies, including City Councilman Bobby Henon. The warrants sought evidence of possible crimes including embezzlement of union funds, intimidation of nonunion contracts, and extortion by an unnamed government official. Sources familiar with the probe have said investigators also are examining Local 98's prolific contributions to political campaigns." Anyway, your sudden keen interest in Trump's political success couldn't be tied in any way to how a new team at The Donald's Justice Department might view that case, could it? Because you know how bad that might look, don't you?
Presumably Johnny Doc doesn't think that -- only that he's jumping on a fast-moving political bandwagon. Not unlike when he offered support to Republicans like Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Tom Corbett, both of whom then lost in humiliating landslides. Trump may be an even worse bet, especially when his ill-conceived ideas about health care or workers' rights start slamming union members over the next year or two. So...why are John Dougherty and Mayor Kenney playing with fire here?