Though Philadelphia’s primary election is many months away (May 19th — mark your calendars!), the battle between incumbent one-term City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and his challenger, controversial Point Breeze real estate developer Ori Feibush, is already about to reach a boiling point.
Just before the Fourth of July holiday, with City Council members about to go on their annual three-month must-be-nice what-is-this-Denmark? summer break, Feibush filed a federal lawsuit against Johnson, alleging that the Councilman blocked him from purchasing two blighted city-owned properties and from bidding on a large parcel of land, as retribution for Feibush’s campaign for his seat.
Such a suit, over so-called “councilmanic authority,” is extremely rare. Johnson has said little about it other than to categorically deny the allegations; his legal response is due in court next month. “The lawsuit is not a political lawsuit,” insists Feibush, sounding moderately convincing. “But politics likely brought us to a point where we had no choice but to file.”
If Feibush’s lawsuit is a torpedo to Johnson’s battleship, the recent activity in the Councilman’s camp is a dirty bomb set off in a village schoolyard.
Shortly after news broke of the suit, this magazine uncovered evidence that well-connected political operative Micah Mahjoubian, a paid consultant to Johnson who previously worked for everyone from former mayor John Street to IBEW boss John Dougherty to Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, asked loathed blogger and ex-convict Joshua Scott Albert of Staphmeal.com infamy to use his nefarious skills to start an anti-Feibush website. “I’d like to create an anonymous blog that chronicles all the shitty things Ori does,” Mahjoubian wrote in a message to Albert.
The blog never came to fruition, only because Albert decided not to play. “I’m just not interested in these politics,” he told us. Mahjoubian didn’t deny his involvement but naturally says that Johnson was unaware of the scheme. The Councilman wouldn’t comment. Again, vacation.
But the mere idea that a man paid by an elected official like Johnson to help defeat his opponent would try to recruit a bottom-feeder like Albert suggests that the upcoming political season, in which we’ll also vote for mayor, is going to be anything but boring.
“I hope it’s not a dirty race,” says Feibush. “I will fight hard, but always aboveboard.”
Time will tell.
Originally published as “Ori vs. Kenyatta: Gloves Off” in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.