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After losing the 2nd District Council election, Ori Feibush went back to work at his real estate office on South Street for the first time in six months facing a new reality. He’ll no longer be the powerful, sometimes controversial developer he worked to become for several years.
His days of investing large sums of his own money to develop row homes in South Philly, of pestering city officials about vacant lots and of contributing to community organizations and charities are finished. He’s a real estate agent. And a broke one at that.
“The reality of the situation is I can’t do what I was doing before,” Feibush tells Billy Penn.
Feibush says all of his money is gone. He says he won’t be investing in any new projects and that’s after divesting from nearly all of his properties for the campaign. He says he won’t be running for political office again, either.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Feibush says. “It’s taken me nine years to build what I did. I killed myself for almost a decade to build some wealth and spent all of it. I put myself in a considerable amount of debt. I’m not looking to recapitalize.”
Feibush lost to incumbent Kenyatta Johnson last week, winning about 38 percent of the vote compared to Johnson’s 62 percent. Feibush, 31 years old, reached deep into his own pockets to finance the effort. On his first campaign filing, his personal contributions totaled $241,500. On his second campaign filing, released in early May, they totaled $289,500. A third filing won’t be released publicly for another month, but Feibush estimates he spent around $600,000 total. Not one of the mayoral candidates spent anywhere close to as much of their own dollars as him (Lynne Abraham spent the most at $100,000 as of the first two filings). Only Allan Domb approached the amount Feibush spent. Domb, like Feibush, is involved in real estate, but he’s been in the game for considerably longer and has likely attained greater wealth. He also won his race for at-large Council.
What did the money get Feibush? He actually performed well almost everywhere in the 2nd District. One area gave him trouble, though: the ward encompassing Point Breeze. In the neighborhood where Feibush focused most of his developments, he got destroyed, winning just 19 percent of the vote. Johnson beat him by over 3,500 votes in Point Breeze and only by about 2,500 more in the rest of the District.
“I was never going to get the money back regardless,” Feibush says. “I was cautiously optimistic. You take chances in life, and I knew that it’s a tall order to unseat an incumbent.”
He’s right. Since 1983, a living, not-indicted, not-shamed incumbent has lost a district council race four times. Feibush’s odds loomed particularly long. The political establishment in Philadelphia never takes kindly to outsiders, but they made an exception for Feibush by denouncing him with even greater fervor. Mayor Michael Nutter referred to him as “the little jerk with a big checkbook.” At times, Feibush didn’t help himself, either. A week before the election, he scheduled a “fake” debate Johnson claimed he never agreed to and then blamed Johnson for not showing up.
As for whether he can continue to partake in the development projects that will get the attention of city leaders and piss off or please residents, depending on their opinion, Feibush sounds pessimistic. He says he’ll continue to try to get clients to invest in South Philly but nothing beyond that. He maintains he won’t have the financial capabilities for taking on large projects.
Feibush ran on the promise of improving educational opportunities and rezoning areas of neighborhoods to stimulate local job growth. He saw his political future, if elected, as changing the communities of the 2nd District in the way he thought he had been doing through his development work, only on a grander scale.
“Unfortunately,” Feibush says, “my vision lost. So I have to go back to my day job.”