Old school vs. new school in a South Philly ward brawl

This negative campaign flyer attacks Karen Brown, who left the Democratic Party to run as a Republican for mayor in 2011.
This negative campaign flyer attacks Karen Brown, who left the Democratic Party to run as a Republican for mayor in 2011.
Posted: March 21, 2014

THE COURT OF Common Pleas today begins hearing hundreds of challenges filed Tuesday against candidates for Democratic ward committee posts.

In South Philly's 36th Ward, the battle for control has reached a scale and scope not seen in more than three decades of politics.

In one corner is Ori Feibush, the 29-year-old real-estate whiz known for clashing with some people who oppose his plans.

In the other is former City Council President Anna Verna, 82, who has been leader of the 36th Ward for nearly four decades.

Feibush tells us he has about 70 people on his slate of candidates for committee posts in the ward, bordered by South Broad Street, Washington Avenue, Moore Street and the Schuylkill.

The ward has 41 divisions. Each division has two committee posts, so that's 82 spots available in the May 20 primary election.

Feibush also has candidates running in the 30th Ward, just to the north, and the 48th Ward, just to the south. Altogether, he has more than 120 candidates.

Feibush is also challenging in court the nominating petitions for nearly 100 people seeking committee posts in those wards.

We sense a man with a plan.

Is Feibush trying to take over the ward so he can challenge Verna for the leadership role?

Feibush says he is focused now on the legal challenges and assisting people who want to help their community. He calls our question on the ward leader election "three steps ahead" of that.

He adds: "I'll never say never."

Is Feibush trying to take over the ward to build a political foundation for his anticipated 2015 run against rookie City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson?

Feibush calls that "five or six steps ahead" of where he is now.

Johnson and the 36th Ward chairman, former state Rep. Harold James, say Verna is running again for ward leader. They both are backing her.

Verna did not respond to our requests for comment.

Feibush is supported in his Council bid by Barbara Capozzi, who lost the 2011 Democratic primary to Johnson by just 40 votes. She is also a friend of Verna's.

"He has a strategy," Capozzi said. "He believes it's a good one. Who am I to question it?"

Feibush tells us the legal fees for the committee challenges so far are "certainly expensive."

His political-action committee ended 2013 with $101,130 in the bank for his 2015 Council run. But he isn't spending any of that, or any money from his real-estate company, on the fees. Instead, he's paying from his own pocket.

Speaking of challenges

Karen Brown, the Democratic committeewoman from South Philly's 1st Ward who resigned to become the Republican candidate for mayor in 2011, wants her old political post back.

Ward leader John Dougherty, head of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is not too keen on that.

The ward's political-action committee sent out a mailer earlier this month, complete with an unflattering photograph, declaring Brown is "not to be trusted," in part because of her fairly long history of financial troubles.

Brown's attorney, Linda Kerns, is challenging 16 people running for committee posts.  

Sam Stretton, Dougherty's attorney, is challenging nine people supported by Brown.

Stretton's legal claim calls Brown "ineligible" according to the Democratic Party's bylaws because she supported Republican candidates and only recently registered as a Democrat on Feb. 20.

Kerns calls that a "dangerous argument to make" since Democrats in Philadelphia routinely support Republican candidates.

Marjorie Margolies MIA

Former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies entered the 2014 Democratic primary race for her old 13th District seat nearly 10 months ago. And we haven't seen much of her since.

Unlike the other Democrats in that race - state Sen. Daylin Leach, Dr. Val Arkoosh, state Rep. Brendan Boyle - Margolies has not been appearing at candidate forums. Her campaign said she would do no forums until after March 11, the deadline for candidates to get on the ballot.

"Frankly, I think the people of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County are really sick and tired of a Congress full of millionaires who don't work very hard," Boyle said this week.

"This has been, in virtually every respect, not a real campaign," Leach said of Margolies.

"Our communities need an ally, not an absentee candidate who will be an absentee representative," Arkoosh said.

Margolies spokesman Ken Smukler said she is negotiating to appear at two debates, one in early April, the other in late April or early May. She is also committed to appear at a May 14 debate, one week before the primary.

Former President Bill Clinton will hold an April 10 fundraiser in Philadelphia for Margolies.

She held the 13th District seat for one term, from 1993 to 1995, losing it after casting the deciding vote for a controversial Clinton budget. Her son is married to Clinton's daughter.

Email: brennac@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5973

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: ph.ly/phillyclout

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