Ori Challenges Kenyatta to Ten Debates

The challenger challenges the incumbent to some good old-fashioned oratorical battles.

Johnson: PA House of Representatives; Feibush: Jeff Fusco

Johnson: PA House of Representatives; Feibush: Jeff Fusco

As the 2015 primary election season heats up in Philadelphia, so do the public declarations of war.

Last week, Mayor Michael Nutter publicly insulted 2nd District council candidate Ori Feibush on behalf of Nutter’s man, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, calling Feibush a “little jerk with a big checkbook,” and now Feibush is publicly calling out incumbent Johnson by challenging him to a series of ten debates.

On Wednesday afternoon, Feibush told Citified that he’s making the official invitation later in the day.

“It’s very important to hold multiple debates across the district, which has over 170,000 constituents,” says Feibush. “And so I think we should have as many debates as possible in the largest venues possible in far-reaching parts of the district — not just one debate packed with 300 people. Let’s try to give those 170,000 constituents an opportunity to pick between two candidates with very different visions.”

Most district council races are routs where the incumbents face no real serious challenger. In those races, debates are rare. But when a district council race is hotly contested, debates are the norm.

The last time we did this in Philadelphia — back in 2011 — there were at least four such debates. Democrat Bill Rubin faced Republican incumbent Brian O’Neill prior to the general election. Democratic candidates Vern Anastasio, Joe Grace, Mark Squilla and Jeff Hornstein all faced each other before the primary to fill the 1st District seat being vacated by Frank DiCicco. In the 8th District, Democratic primary candidates Howard Treatman, Cindy Bass, Greg Paulmier and Andrew Lofton debated at the Second Baptist Church in Germantown. And Johnson himself debated Barbara Capozzi, Tracy Gordon, and Damon Roberts in the race for Anna Verna’s seat, which he won.

Debate politics are tricky for incumbents. If Johnson meets Feibush on the same stage, he arguably lends credibility to his opponent. And what if Feibush lands some real blows at an event that would be well-covered by the media? The downsides are obvious. On the other hand, if Johnson declines to debate, Feibush can and presumably will call the councilman out as a chicken, over and over again. “Kenyatta the Coward” has a certain kind of ring to it.

So will Johnson accept Feibush’s challenge?

Johnson spokesman Mark Nevins confirms that the councilman has received one — and only one — invitation for a debate, from the Center City Residents’ Assocation. “And we said we would try to schedule it,” said Nevins.

As for Feibush’s new challenge to ten debates throughout the large district, Nevins says he hasn’t seen anything official yet.

“But can the campaign right now commit to having at least one debate?” we asked.

“I just told you: We’ll try to find a date,” he replied. “There is room for substantive debates between the Councilman and Ori. It’s all fine and good to say, ‘I challenge you to ten debates.’ We’re happy to put our record up against Ori’s. But I don’t know if he realizes that debates are different than just hurling personal attacks. But I guess we’ll find out.”

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