Absurd GOP Primary a Fight for Party’s Philly Future

But could this be the race that makes us a two-party town?

Pity the neglected Republican Philadelphia mayoral candidates. They have no chance at actually winning elected office. Their motives for running are constantly questioned. And their best shot at getting some media attention is to rob a bank.

One of the candidates, real estate agent John Featherman, has resorted to provocative online-only “ads” to get someone, anyone, to pay attention to the race. And I do mean provocative. His latest features a stripper and a pair of cigar-smoking party bosses. It is arguably NSFW. An earlier spot from Featherman was far more subtle: It starred Moammar Gadhafi, who was being offered asylum in Philadelphia.

Featherman’s opponent, Karen Brown, has had an easier time attracting press, but mostly because she’s declared bankruptcy four times, and faced foreclosure action five times. Oh, and she was a Democratic committeewoman until about 15 minutes before the filing deadline for the primary election, when GOP party bosses enlisted her to run.

Brown attributes her financial woes to her husband’s health problems, which were certainly grave. She has a harder time, though, explaining her switch in parties. Brown says city spending is out of control. But she also laments the cuts to government services: reductions in police and fire budgets (police and firefighters should be paid more, she says, not less), the school funding crisis and aid to seniors like her mother. It’s political schizophrenia. She wants big government with low taxes.

Plus—and maybe I’m being petty here—she can’t spell. Or at any rate, her campaign can’t. Take a look at the “action plan” on her website, where she calls for the city to “diverate” money to basic services and “Revise all Business Taxes through Cost Cutting Measures within City Hall and Hiring Incentatives.” Sic all of that: the grammar, the spelling, the random capitalization.

Believe it or not, though, this absurd primary is not all farce. Brown vs. Featherman is really a campaign pitting the old city GOP interests—the guard led by Michael Meehan, and represented in this case by Brown—against insurgent Republicans who want the organization to work at becoming a viable opposition party, instead of the subservient bit player it has been for decades.

Featherman, the insurgent candidate, got beat up a little bit by fellow Philly Post blogger Larry Mendte when Featherman admitted he wasn’t in the race to take out Michael Nutter. But I give the guy credit for recognizing the obvious and for copping to his real objective.

“My goal is to win the primary so I can legitimately say ‘the machine is dead, and Meehan, I respectfully ask you to step aside,’” Featherman told me.

Although totally lacking in taste, Featherman’s latest ad effectively makes the case that the city GOP exists largely to consume whatever patronage crumbs the Democrats throw its way. That arrangement works well for the leadership of both parties, but it’s hard to see how it’s healthy for the city as a whole. How much better off would Philadelphia’s political culture be if the GOP could muster a candidate as qualified and legitimate as Sam Katz every four years?

Follow Patrick Kerkstra on Twitter at twitter.com/pkerkstra