Big Labor Group Unites Behind Jim Kenney

Will Johnny Doc pick our next mayor, after all?

Photo Credit | Matt Rourke, AP

Here at Citified, we don’t want to get into the habit of reporting on every endorsement in the mayor’s race, but this is a big one: The Philadelphia Council of AFL-CIO announced Friday that it is backing former City Councilman Jim Kenney for mayor.

More than 40 labor leaders across the city make up the executive board of the AFL-CIO, including electricians union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, Building Trades Council business manager Pat Gillespie, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, District Council 33 head Pete Matthews, hospital workers union chief Henry Nicholas, and many more.

To make an endorsement, at least two-thirds of the board must vote for a candidate.

“It was a very strong vote,” says Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council of AFL-CIO. “Much more than the two-thirds that we needed.”

This means most of big labor in Philly is now united behind Kenney. (Though not all of big labor. The Teamsters, carpenters and Transport Workers Union Local 234 are backing Kenney’s foe, state Sen. Anthony Williams.)

To anyone who’s been following the race, it isn’t exactly a surprise that Kenney picked up the AFL-CIO’s endorsement. But it is the culmination of more than a year of work by the city’s unions — and it also means Johnny Doc is one step closer to realizing his dream of labor choosing the next mayor.

In the 2007 mayoral race, the city’s unions backed a number of different candidates. Big labor was so divided that the Philadelphia Council of AFL-CIO decided not to endorse anyone that year. Dougherty and other labor leaders believe that is why Michael Nutter, who Matthews once dubbed “the Scott Walker of the East,” was able to win the race.

Dougherty has been working for more than a year to unite labor around one mayoral candidate. A couple months ago, it looked like that wouldn’t happen: At the time, it was apparent that labor’s top pick, City Council President Darrell Clarke, wasn’t going to jump into the race, and Kenney, another favorite of unions, also seemed unlikely to run.

But run he did. And now, he’ll be getting maxed-out checks from many unions as well as a giant get-out-the-vote operation on Election Day.

Here’s the press release about Kenney’s endorsement from the Philadelphia Council of AFL-CIO:

The Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, representing 130,000 working men and women in Philadelphia has endorsed Jim Kenney for mayor.

“Jim Kenney is the right choice for Philadelphia. As a Councilman, he stood up time and again to defend working families on everything from prevailing wage to the right to organize. The son of a union firefighter from South Philadelphia, Jim has always focused on families in every neighborhood because he knows Philadelphia is not truly succeeding unless everyone is moving forward. We look forward to working with Jim to create a city where everyone has access to fair, safe working conditions and a living wage,” said Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Patrick J. Eiding.

Jim Kenney added, “I am honored to have the endorsement of these hardworking men and women. Having grown up in a union household, I understand that the most important thing a public official can do is to give people the opportunity to work and to protect their rights once they’re employed. As mayor, I’ll fight every day for Philadelphians’ right to a living wage, paid sick leave and safe work sites.”

The Philadelphia AFL-CIO made the decision to endorse after vetting each candidate. The decision to endorse was difficult because of the quality of the field of candidates.