By John Kopp
- PHILADELPHIA >> Angered by political advertisements negatively portraying Democratic state Senate candidate John Kane as a union boss, union leaders threatened Thursday to cease contributing to the campaigns of Delaware County Republican candidates.
Union leaders from the Philadelphia Building Trades Council blasted attack advertisements by Republican candidate Tom McGarrigle as a smear campaign. They said it was hypocritical of Republicans to accept union campaign contributions and then portray Kane as a union boss sympathetic to intimidation tactics.
One after another, the union heads vouched for the integrity of John Kane and bemoaned the Delaware County Republican Party during a 30-minute press conference at the union hall of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
Kane, the business manager of Plumbers Union Local 690, and McGarrigle, the chairman of Delaware County Council and the owner of an auto repair shop, are running for the open seat in the 26th Senatorial District. The race is considered one of the most competitive in the state.
The union leaders claimed the building trades have contributed more than $1.7 million to Republican campaigns since 2010. They pledged that money will dry up due to the McGarrigle ads.
“Now, that will change,” Local 98 Business Manager John Dougherty said. “It will change two-fold. This type of leadership that is scared of an open race not only doesn’t deserve money, but it deserves competition for years to come.”
Delaware County GOP Chairman Andy Reilly said county Republicans have an “excellent working relationship” with the trade unions.
“I’m very proud of the record of the Delaware County Republican officeholders, which has created thousands of jobs for the men and women of the Delaware County trade unions,” Reilly said.
The McGarrigle campaign is airing a television ad that criticizes Kane for not returning a $7,500 contribution from Ironworkers Union Local 401. It also has issued a mailer listing the same criticisms.
Ten union members, including business manager Joe Dougherty, were indicted in February for allegedly using violent intimidation tactics to force construction contractors to hire union ironworkers.
McGarrigle accepted a $500 contribution from the Local 401 in 2009, but donated the money to the Delaware County Domestic Abuse Project after learning of the indictments.
Kane and union leaders emphasized that his contribution was made on behalf of the entire union membership, noting members voluntarily make wage donations to a political action committee charged with supporting favorable candidates.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Kane said. “I accepted money from the ironworkers’ members — let’s not forget that. It’s not Joe Dougherty’s money, its his members’.
“I support Local 401 as I support every labor union and every working class person from Delaware County. A rising tide floats all boats — let’s not forget that.”
The McGarrigle campaign stood behind its ad campaign. Spokeswoman Virginia Davis questioned Kane’s leadership, claiming Kane failed to condemn the violent actions of the indicted ironworkers and stood by silently while six of the 10 indicted members pleaded guilty.
“He refused to return the thousands of dollars of tainted money he took from Joe Dougherty,” Davis wrote in an email. “The ad is truthful and obviously effective. Why is John Kane hiding behind Philadelphia special interests?”
Union leaders refuted the notion that contributions from Local 401 are tainted, repeatedly saying the donations are on behalf of the entire union membership.
Kane spokesman Aren Platt wrote in an email that “of course John Kane would never condone any illegal action or act of violence.”
The union leaders withheld judgement on Dougherty, noting he is innocent until proven guilty, while condemning the alleged actions of the indicted. Kane stood by his friendship with Dougherty.
“When you find out you have a friend who is sitting on top of the world, it’s a great time to be his friend,” Kane said. “But when your friend is struggling and everyone walks away, a true friend is going to stand beside him.”
Davis also criticized Kane for failing to support legislation that would remove an exemption protecting unions engaged in labor disputes from being prosecuted for stalking and harassment. Kane said in March that the bill “sneakily attempts to confuse the essential distinction between picketing and harassment.”
The gathered union leaders included Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Trades Council; Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO; and Ryan Boyer, business manager of the Laborers District Council of Philadelphia.