John Dougherty Just Got Even More Powerful

He's going to become the next leader of the building trades council. Here's what it means.
John Dougherty (left) takes U.S. Sen. Pat  Toomey on a tour of the electrician union's apprentice training facility in February 2014. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

John Dougherty (left) is seen taking U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (middle) on a tour of the electrician union’s apprentice training facility in February 2014. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

We didn’t know this was possible: John Dougherty, head of the city’s mighty electricians union, which has risen to become the single largest independent campaign contributor in Pennsylvania, just gained even more power.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday, “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 will step down in September.

But how big of a deal is this?

Not that big, in some ways. Gillespie and Dougherty were extremely close already, meaning that there may not be a huge shift in the way the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council is run under Dougherty. Gillespie was Doc’s mentor. And Dougherty described his succession to the head of the building trades Council to the Inquirer in this way: “It’s personal. It’s like a family thing.”

Plus, Dougherty had already become a clear leader in the building trades. His union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, played a huge role in the creation of the super PAC “Building a Better Pa.,” which pooled the money of more than a dozen building trades unions. That super PAC helped U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle get elected, and majorly supported Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney in the primary election.

And, in fact, Dougherty proved this spring that he can unite labor groups outside of the building trades, when he spearheaded an effort to get all of Big Labor behind one mayoral candidate. In the end, most of Philly’s labor groups backed Kenney.

On the other hand, a lot of Dougherty’s power over other building trades groups was unofficial and impermanent. It could have been taken away from Dougherty at any point if he and Gillespie split. Now, his reign is durable. That means Dougherty’s influence over local, state and national elections will likely grow even larger than it is today.