John J. Dougherty

File: John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty is business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers..

Elections are a busy time for John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, who, along with his union, is backing his brother Kevin Dougherty's campaign for a seat on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court.

"Who would you support? Someone who lives 400 miles away, or your brother?" Dougherty said. "My mom raised both of us to be for each other all the time."

It's what brothers do, but in this case, John Dougherty can call on his union brothers, who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Kevin Dougherty and Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney.

As business manager, Dougherty, 55, leads one of the city's most powerful unions, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with 4,500 members and a well-financed political war chest.

"My brother Kevin is a great candidate in his own right," Dougherty said. "I've invested in [many] Democrats with significant amounts of money because of how they stand on positions we stand for.

"I'm a hired gun for these kids," he said of union members. "Health care, defined pensions are important to us. Prevailing wages are important, but so is public education, because my family has lived in Philly for over 100 years."

How much influence will you have in the Kenney administration, if he wins?

 

Jim Kenney is his own guy. We and the other unions are supporting him because he's always stood up for working families. The entire notion of outside influence is overblown. I don't see when I would ask Jim Kenney to do anything.

On Dec. 1, you'll replace Patrick Gillespie as leader of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.

 

I'm a big Pat Gillespie fan - the transition between Pat and myself has been seamless. Even with all our minor dysfunctions, we are probably still the best building trades in America. My goal is to modernize us. Pat had two feet in the past and one in the future. I have two in the future and one in the past. So, I want to start to brand us a bit better.

You've mentioned how Local 98's pension fund invested in several Center City real estate projects. Any plans to expand that through the Council?

 

I'm looking forward to having our own real estate investment fund centered in Philly for Southeastern Pennsylvania. The initial basis for the funding will be union pension funds, but municipalities or whoever could invest.

You mentioned the condo building at 21st and Chestnut that was recently sold. Is that what you mean?

 

It was a $60 million [investment] and it just got sold for $100 million.

The Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, led by Edward Coryell, isn't part of the Council. Will that change?

 

It will be on my wish list. I'm going to do everything to sell Ed on the fact that we are much stronger as a whole and that the program I'm going to initiate will be good for him.

Are there hard feelings over the Convention Center? You led union electricians across a Carpenters' picket line after they lost the right to work there. Meeting planners say the Center is now more user-friendly.

It's an uncomfortable issue for a lot of people inside the industry. I believe we could have made these same changes with carpenters in the process. I've been saying for years that the [Center's] management was heavily bureaucratic and patronage-laden. So, I don't believe the carpenters' not being in the facility is the reason that the convention center has [improved].

What changed?

 

I think the [work rule] flexibility that the other unions have agreed to is [a factor, as is] private management.

Do you have a bad temper?

No one's ever seen me throw a fit. I might have a minor slip-up, but I don't swear. I actually like people.

What's your best leadership trait?

 

I'm not afraid to lead. How can you influence public opinion if you don't have an opinion yourself? You can't be afraid of any topic. You can't be paralyzed by politics. You have to have the ability to communicate.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769@JaneVonBergen