Who Will Be Philadelphia’s Ron Paul?

Ori Feibush got in trouble for cleaning a vacant lot. Now a new video suggests he's a V for Vendetta-style folk hero.

Ori Feibush just might be a hero.

It’s weird to say that, because Feibush–the Point Breeze developer who owns OCF Realty–usually strikes other, less heroic poses: He’s been called a gentrifier, a blatant self-promoter, and a few other unflattering things. He’s the kind of guy you’d rather take potshots at than praise.

But this week, at least, Feibush might be a hero, because he did something that needs to happen more often in Philadelphia: He saw a mess. And he cleaned up the mess.

This being Philadelphia, of course he’s in trouble.

The mess, you see, wasn’t Feibush’s to clean up. The debris-filled lot at 20th and Annin streets is owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority: Feibush owns the coffee shop next door. By his own estimation, he spent $20,000 to have 40 tons of debris removed from the site, and created what’s essentially a pocket park in its spot.

In a better world, city officials would swallow their pride–and their rule book, for that matter–and either A) stay silent or B) publicly thank Feibush for his service to the community. Instead, they’ve let it be known they’re cranky and publicly branded Feibush a trespasser. “Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property,” one official harumphed to the Daily News. “This is both on principle (no property owner knowingly allows trespassing) and to limit taxpayer liability.”

That makes a certain kind of narrowly legal sense. But it’s difficult not to return to the bottom line here: Feibush saw a mess. And he cleaned up the mess. On his own dime. That should count for something good, right?

It doesn’t, though. And it leads to this thought: What Philadelphia needs is a few more loud, vocal libertarians.

Notice I don’t say “Republicans.” Everybody knows about the GOP’s problems here, and even if the local party weren’t mired in patronage and ineffectiveness, state and national Republicans have such anti-urban tendencies that it would be very difficult for the Philadelphia chapter to get much traction.

No, what I’m talking about are libertarians–not the near-anarchists who want to “end the Fed,” exactly, but more people whose instinct, when they see a problem, is to solve it by getting the government out of the way.

In other words: Who will be Philadelphia’s Ron Paul?

I’m being slightly facetious here, because Paul himself is a little bit kooky, and because Philadelphia really does need a strong city government. There’s more than a million people in this town, living on top of each other, with disparate views and needs: It could all go to hell in a big fat hurry if City Hall walked away from the job.

But too often, City Hall gets in the way of other people doing their jobs. We’ve all heard horror stories about the business privilege tax (though reform is coming, slowly). We all know somebody who wanted to start a business, then suffered through innumerable, costly delays until L&I finished its inspections and gave the go-ahead. What we don’t see that often, though, is somebody who sees a mess and cleans the mess. Our city–and our city government–doesn’t seem built to encourage that kind of behavior.

Which is maybe why Philadelphia needs that Ron Paul-type of politician or activist. Not necessarily somebody to come in and run the show based on libertarian principles–but somebody, at the least, who could use those principles to harangue City Hall on a daily basis to get out of the way so regular people can get stuff done. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Don’t worry about Feibush: The incident has been spun into national and international news coverage for him; you get the sense that everything has worked out exactly the way he wanted it to. If Mayor Nutter is smart, he’s sent word to the redevelopment authority to make its complaints–however legally valid they might be–go away.

But we’re still living in a city where Feibush got in trouble for doing what needed done. Until that changes, we’re all stuck with the mess.

Update: After this was posted this morning, I came across this video that turns Feibush into a V for Vendetta-style folk hero. Apparently it’s from the notorious Anonymous hacker group.

I was advocating for a vocal libertarian movement in Philadelphia: I didn’t realize that movement would advocate for revolution!