Nutter on Ori Feibush: “A Little Jerk With a Big Checkbook”

Why the political class is so worked up over the Kenyatta Johnson and Ori Feibush face-off.

Johnson and a few of his high-powered supporters. Photo courtesy of Johnson's campaign.

Johnson and a few of his high-powered supporters. Photo courtesy of Johnson’s campaign.

The second district City Council race, featuring incumbent Kenyatta Johnson and controversial developer Ori Feibush, is certainly living up to its billing as perhaps the most intriguing/entertaining contest in Philadelphia this year.

This morning, at Johnson’s formal re-election campaign kickoff, Mayor Nutter fired up the crowd by reportedly saying: “We’re not going to allow some little jerk with a big checkbook come in and buy this election.”

The “little jerk” being Feibush, who has donated at least $250,000 of his own cash to his campaign fund. It seems like Nutter may not have totally gotten over that whole little episode with Feibush and the city’s Redevelopment Authority. You know, Lotgate, wherein Feibush spent $20,000 to clean a rubbish-strewn city-owned vacant lot, only to be labeled a trespasser by the city. The story went viral, in that weird-news-of-the-day kind of way.

Asked for a response, Feibush quipped in an email: “Not sure why he had to go after my height :) .” (It’s probably smart of Feibush to keep it light, as he once suggested in an unguarded moment that the mayor should have been Obama’s “Chief Retard.”)

But it’s not just Nutter who is fired up over the 2nd District race. Johnson was flanked by most of the city’s political class, including Nutter, Ed Rendell, Congressman Bob Brady, most of City Council, mayoral candidate Anthony Williams and many more. Part of that is simple incumbent protectionism at work. Incumbents, particularly in Philadelphia, tend to help one another in times of need, and there’s little question that Feibush is mounting a very serious challenge.

Part of it too is that a lot of the political class just doesn’t like Feibush. They consider him divisive and over-reaching and more or less impossible to reason with.

But that isn’t quite enough to explain why the political class is so worked up about this race. At root, their worry stems from the fact that Feibush is something very new in Philadelphia politics: a well-funded outsider who would rather burn down the political class than join it, and who has tapped into a wellspring of disgust with City Hall.

That’s a threat. That’s the sort of challenge that gives lifelong pols the cold sweats.

None of this is to say that Feibush, who is at least as good at alienating people as he is at harnessing outrage, should be elected to City Council, or that he’d be better at the job than Johnson. That’s not the point here.

The point is that if Feibush were to win, I think it’s likely there’d be more candidates like him in the years to come, and that is not a future that Cindy Bass or Mark Squilla or Curtis Jones Jr. or any of the city’s incumbents care to ponder.

And so Johnson will have real support in his re-election bid. He’ll get big time help, both cash money and volunteer labor, from other elected officials and their supporters, to counter all that cash Feibush looks primed to spend.

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