Union 'scholarships' for Williams' kids don't smell right

IBEW Local 98 leader John Dougherty spoke with Councilman Bobby Henon during last year’s Labor Day parade along Delaware Avenue.

Disgraced District Attorney Seth Williams took his sweet time deciding whether to press charges in the case of the union boss caught in a sidewalk brawl. He eventually punted to the Attorney General’s Office, explaining it was best for someone else to take on the matter because he and the union boss had a “long-standing professional relationship.”

He left out lucrative.

Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had given $17,500 to Williams’ election campaigns.  But that’s not all. Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck reports the union also paid $6,400 for Williams’ daughters to take separate trips to Japan and Spain.

Williams’ history of groveling for gifts from wealthy benefactors – including lavish vacations, a leather couch and a roof job for his house – landed him a 23-count federal criminal indictment. His trial is set for May 31.

Local 98’s history of bankrolling politicians has in the past placed it in the cross hairs of criminal investigators.  Last summer, federal agents raided the union’s headquarters; business agent John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty’s home; the office of Councilman Bobby Henon, Local 98’s former political director; and other union-related locations. The sprawling federal investigation reportedly includes examination of the union’s business and political practices. Meanwhile, the state has looked at the union’s pattern of alleged intimidation of non-union contractors.

The Williams daughters’ trips came up in a search warrant in the federal case against the district attorney. Agents reportedly were seeking information about the 2015 trips as well as information about Dougherty and his union. But the trips aren’t mentioned in the Williams indictment and it’s not known if accepting them was an illegal act.

Williams failed to report the trips to the city Ethics Board, making it yet another benefit he received while in office but chose to conceal from the public. He’s already paid a record $62,000 fine to the board for failing to report $175,000 in gifts and cash.

Ridiculously, the union is calling the funds it provided for the trips “scholarships,” just like many it awards deserving children.

By making that comparison the union has put its criteria for all of its scholarships into question. Must the children receiving scholarships be related to politicians and other influential figures? Would Local 98 have considered giving scholarships to Williams’ children if he wasn’t the DA?

Local 98’s interest in politics is legendary. It is among the city’s most powerful institutions and holds onto that power by supporting politicians who are sympathetic to its positions.  The union endorsed Mayor Kenney, helped propel Dougherty’s brother Kevin to the state Supreme Court, and got Henon elected to City Council.

Giving scholarships to the children of a discredited politician is a bad move by a union that should be attending to its own affairs, legal and otherwise.

Williams has fallen hard. Thankfully, he has chosen not to seek another term. His failings highlight the importance of the upcoming race to replace him and the need for candidates who will raise the bar for ethics in the office. Whoever wins must keep even the suggestion of favoritism out of an office that is supposed to be protecting the people of Philadelphia from criminals.