There are three political parties in Philly.   The Democrats, the FBI, and the IRS.

That is a phrase I coined 13 years ago when I moved to Philadelphia, after realizing how grotesque our city’s political organs function.

Today is a day when the other two major powers in Philly–normally dormant and rarely heard–woke the fuck up, unzipped their fly, and showed everyone in this town who is boss.

That right there is an FBI evidence truck driving away with the family jewels of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 98.  Right now, that truck and its contents is the most valuable thing in Pennsylvania.  There are a lot of political careers in Pennsylvania that could be helped or harmed by the contents of that vehicle.

I watched as two armed FBI agents climbed into the cab to drive off into the sunset at 17th and Spring Garden, later tailed by Pennsylvania State Police in civilian vehicles to take those dozens of boxes filled with thousands of documents and computers wherever the IRS and FBI forensic investigators are waiting.

Somewhere on Monday a small army of furrowed eyebrows and desk calculators will begin pouring through all the dirty little secrets inside.

Every lifelong resident of Philadelphia understands the significance of this raid and the political chaos that could potentially spring forth if los federales find what they’re looking for.

Many of you newcomers to Philadelphia have no idea what this means.   Let me explain.   You may want to sit down, because there is no fast and easy way to go through it all.

Johnny Doc

Johnny Doc talking to investigators outside his home (Emma Lee, WHYY/Newsworks)
Johnny Doc talking to investigators outside his home (Emma Lee, WHYY/Newsworks)

John J. Dougherty, aka “Johnny Doc,” is the most politically-powerful Democrat in Philadelphia.  Arguably in Pennsylvania.   He is the long time business manager of IBEW Local 98 and is also head of the Building Trades Council, a federated constellation of most of the other building trade unions in the city.

If you’re still confused as to why unions are relevant in power politics here in Philly, stop and open a new browser tab and read through this old but still extremely important lesson that explains how union power controls Philadelphia.

While Johnny Doc as a man is completely unelectable–he’s ran for state senate before and handily lost–he doesn’t need to hold political office to influence how local and state government operates.  Under mayor John Street he used to run the Redevelopment Authority which had contracting influence, and today he’s also on the board of DRPA which controls most of the bridges between PA and New Jersey and PATCO and has a large budget.

When Johnny Doc says “don’t call me ever again,” a Philly pol will take that to mean “I will fucking destroy you in the next election cycle” and it’s not an empty threat.  Doc can end political careers including long-time incumbents (ask former City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione).

Doc has his hands in all the pies.  Name just about any Philly politician who sits in office and if you look at their campaign finance reports you will see that Local 98 has given that politician considerable sums of money.   IBEW 98 is the largest campaign financier in all of Pennsylvania.

It’s not just money that IBEW 98 contributes that makes it powerful, but also men.   IBEW has access to thousands of cardholders it can deploy at any time to participate in campaign activities from staging rallies, delivering leaflets, driving around with the Ratmobile™ and distributing sample ballots during election primaries.   A huge number of Philadelphians fall in line whenever Johnny Doc issues an opinion on just about any topic.

And it’s not just in-between-job electricians who can be political operatives and street workers that enhances Johnny Doc’s power.   Countless numbers of City civil service employees are also linked to Johnny Doc, particularly in areas of concern where the building trades intersect like at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the Streets Department and especially the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

The current chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Jim Moylan, is Johnny Doc’s personal chiropractor.  There’s been a member of Local 98 on the zoning board for as long as I can remember.  Local 98 is everywhere in city government. You cannot escape it.  And no matter whether that person directly works for Doc, has a Local 98 card or got their city job with the help of Doc, one thing is common amongst all Docophiles: they all have a determined endearing and slavish devotion to Local 98’s leader.

If you’re wondering how the Soda Tax managed to get the political will to be passed this year, Johnny Doc is your answer.   If it wasn’t for Doc’s support of the Soda Tax it would be dead right now.  Doc supported the tax because the spending of the proceeds will ultimately wind up in City contracts that will be awarded to contractors that Doc supports.  So Doc twisted arms, broke knuckles and dragged reluctant pols to dinner to make it happen.

Doc has even thrown other unions under the bus.   For the Soda Tax issue he fucked over the Teamsters who opposed the tax.  When the Pennsylvania Convention Center was about to become a ghost town over the maniacal behavior of the Carpenters Union, he helped orchestrate the destruction of the Carpenters local by publicly encouraging electricians to cross picket lines at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and expressed sweeping public dismay at them, draining what little official support they had.  The Metropolitain Regional Council of Carpenters headed by Ed Coryell Sr. and his son was swept away and now those locals report to New Jersey.

To put it plainly: every interaction you ever have with City government, in some way, Doc has weight.  For some of you, especially half of the Northeast–your city councilperson who represents you wouldn’t be in office if it weren’t for Doc.  Councilman Bobby Henon is one of those people along with five others (Henon’s offices were also raided by the FBI today).

So What Is the FBI Raid all About?

As reported in the Inquirer:

Late Friday, a person familiar with the investigation said it focused on the union’s finances and its involvement in the political campaigns of Mayor Kenney and state Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, who is Dougherty’s brother. Federal authorities are also scrutinizing Dougherty’s finances and taxes, the source said.

The union has been raided by the FBI once before.  This time it is far more serious.

Also present on Friday were agents from the U.S. Treasury Department which represent the IRS Criminal Investigative Division.   The FBI spent all day in over six separate locations scooping up and swallowing every shred of financial information about the union.   So much was collected that the union will likely demand some of the materials back as it has no way to do routine operations like bookkeeping and payroll without access to the records the FBI took.


So How Does Any of This Affect Me?

This really depends on what the FBI and the IRS find in those boxes.   The raids took all day and the FBI took everything.   Every politician in Pennsylvania that ever took money from Local 98 will have records in those boxes and computers, and that includes just about every Democrat politician and a number of Republicans in this city, including Governor Wolf.

Let’s just go right into the worst possible outcome.

If the Feds bring racketeering charges against Local 98 along with the union’s management the US Attorney will freeze the financial assets of Local 98.   Suddenly, and without any warning, a LOT of incumbents both within Philadelphia and in Harrisburg will be without a major line of support for their political campaigns.   This will no doubt cause chaos as some politicians who rely more on Local 98 support will see holes develop in their campaign bank accounts and challengers will see opportunities to go after weak incumbents who relied too much on the union’s support.

The records might also uncover a number of other ethical bombshells beyond just those who the IRS and FBI are currently targeting.  If there are skeletons in Local 98’s closet, those skeletons are on that Penske truck right now and they will be discovered.  If that happens, indictments could spread beyond just Local 98 and impact sitting politicians in office.  The cancer could also spread over to the Democratic City Committee, run by Congressman Rep. Bob Brady.

If that occurs, this has the potential of becoming the worst political scandal in Philadelphia’s history since ABSCAM.  Considering that the Inquirer source says the FBI is looking into Mayor Kenney’s election, this could spell trouble.

Ultimately the direct impact to you beyond the political chaos is a series of special elections that would be called if local pols have to vacate office.  If Local 98 is hit with RICO charges then Local 98’s influence would also be neutered and they would be unable to pump any candidates or pay foot soldiers.  That would present a rare opportunity for reformists in the city who are far more interested in cleaner, functioning and transparent city government rather than those who care more about patronage and maintaining old friendships.

If no prosecutions happen as a result of this raid then nothing changes and political reform in Philadelphia will continue at its present snail’s pace–mostly driven by demographic shifts as young residents replace old and the gentrification going on in a few neighborhoods.

It’s an exciting time to be alive.   For Local 98 families there will be lots to talk about at the Thanksgiving table.   There will also be lots of juicy stories coming out of #DocGate for the foreseeable future, too.

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