Johnny Doc Is Starting a Think Tank

Still from the commercial

John Dougherty was rendered in ghostly form in a commercial for a documentary that was critical of Mayor Nutter.

Well, here’s a development I wasn’t expecting: Union boss John Dougherty has announced that he’s starting a think tank to explore the topic of electing a pro-union mayor in 2015. Nutter — long seen as a union foe (only in Philly) — presented a problem for organized labor when he first came up for election: He was a fairly typical big-city Democrat, which by definition, makes him pro-labor. The problem? Unlike most others who run for office in this town (looking at you, City Council), he didn’t feel he had to rely heavily on union support in order to get elected. How did that happen?

In Tom Ferrick’s new Publius column, “Welcome to Fantasy Island,” he explains:

According to union leader John Dougherty, it was because the city’s labor unions were split over whom to endorse. As a result, Michael Nutter slipped up the middle and got himself elected.

Since then, various union officials have linked Nutter to famed Wisconsin union bogeyman Gov. Scott Walker and to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, among other noted personages, simply because, as Ferrick puts it, “in his role of mayor of a city of 1.5 million people,” he attempted to “seek concessions from city employees and teachers in contract talks in the name of preserving the city’s scant resources.”

That is not a treasonable offense, not in most other jurisdictions in the United States of America. Here it is. Anyone who enunciates a slight variation in the orthodoxy is considered a heretic. You are either 100 percent for the unions or you are 100 percent against them.

And most politicians want to be seen as 100 percent for them because they believe that’s how you get elected in this town. Hence Doc’s “think tank,” a project he articulated to Sean Collins Walsh of the Daily News in a piece called “Will labor pick Philly’s next mayor?,” which I assume is a mostly rhetorical question. Walsh writes:

“Johnny Doc” has been hosting many of the city’s top labor leaders for monthly lunch meetings at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local 98 headquarters, at 17th and Spring Garden streets.

For now, he said, they’re working on union-related issues and organizing rallies. But their ultimate goal is to coalesce around one labor-backed candidate in 2015.

“It’s a thinktank that turns into a ‘do tank,’ ” Dougherty said. “It’s not a matter of if we’re going to be all together, it’s a matter of who we’re going to be all together behind.”

If the labor coalition stays united, its chosen candidate will be formidable.

Ferrick expands on the influence Doc & co. can wield:

When Doc speaks, people listen, even if they have trouble understanding what he says. His IBEW is perhaps the most politically active union in the city, a generous giver (mostly) to Democratic candidates that can unleash a (mostly phantom) army of electricians on Election Day.

…Doc’s union is one of 25+ in the Building and Construction Trades Council. If each directs $11,500 to a favored candidate it adds up. If all the unions work together, they can direct a considerable amount of cash to a favored candidate. In this new world, Doc is not only a big giver, he is a big bundler.

[CONFIDENTIAL TO CANDIDATES: Note Ferrick’s use of the words “mostly phantom.”]

Ferrick has three questions regarding the think tank’s goals, including “how pro-union do you have to be to pass the union litmus test?” Very pro-union, Tom. Like, extremely. As an athlete might say after the game, you gotta give 110 percent.

Welcome to Fantasy Island [Axis Philly]