The Fresh Prince of Point Breeze

Posted: March 28, 2014

ORI FEIBUSH just doesn't get it.

His first big mistake was spending nearly 25G to clean, landscape and decorate a trash-strewn city-owned lot without the city's permission.

How dare he!

After international publicity about the earnest developer vs. clueless city government, the city backed off. He now has permission to keep the lot - next to his Point Breeze OCF Coffee Shop at 20th and Federal - clean and tidy.

Seems like wanting to make things better is a sin in Philly. Feibush likes to say his adopted city "is designed to make people fail."

Feibush wants to do four things in Point Breeze, a/k/a the Land the City Forgot: run a business (he has three coffee shops, two real-estate offices), build his home, build other people's homes (he's done about 150 units) and make money.

Seems like that's a sin in Philly.

A friend of mine, a good-hearted progressive, lived in Point Breeze as a single guy and remained there as a family man. The idea was to expose his kids to the diversity of different cultures and different people. He looked past the trash in the streets, the graffiti, the drugs, but gunfire in the streets was too much. He fled a decade ago.

Things have improved since then, but there is resistance to development from some neighbors.

Feibush doesn't want this cast as racial, but in Philadelphia almost everything - from the motives of developers to the ratings of quarterbacks - is seen through the prism of race.

Feibush grew up in green and white Upper Dublin, he's been a Point Breezer since 2006 and he just doesn't get it.

He sees it as a political issue - politicians doing a big, fat nothing for the neighborhood. It is also an economic issue. When young (white) "haves" move in, some older (black) "have nots" feel pressured to leave by rising tax bills or offers from developers. Since 2000, according to the census, white residents have increased by one-third while black neighbors declined by one-fifth.

Feibush's early press exposure, with the trash-filled lot, was in 2012. A few days ago, he was in the papers after recruiting 120 people to run for Democratic committee positions (the lowest rung on the political ladder) in three wards south and west of Center City, including Point Breeze.

Recruiting 120 people makes him a community organizer, a capitalist community organizer, which is a novelty. Is millennial political kingpin next?

No, but challenging Councilman Kenyatta Johnson for his seat next year is. Feibush says he and Johnson share similar goals, but the incumbent is clueless about how to achieve them.

I was amazed when I read that the cheeky Feibush, 29, rounded up 120 potential candidates for office.

Sitting across from him in his Point Breeze OCF Coffee House, I ask how he did it.

"It required a lot of outreach" to people "who are upset on what they see on a day-to-day basis, who haven't been able to find their voice," he says. "There's no quid pro quo," and some of the candidates aren't his biggest fans, he says. What unites them is a desire to improve Point Breeze. They are divided equally between white and black, male and female.

He gives me a tour through the neighborhood as snowflakes begin to fall, getting waves and shout-outs from all kinds of people - young, old, black, white. It's like he's the Fresh Prince of Point Breeze.

There is buzz among political types that Feibush wants to unseat popular, four-decade Ward Leader Anna Verna, but that's inside baseball for most of us.

The point I want to make is that when people are unhappy with the political process, people like me tell people like them to get involved, to use democracy as a tool to change what they don't like. That is the system bequeathed to us by our founders.

Most people don't because it's too much work. They prefer to bitch, shrug and surrender.

Ori Feibush just doesn't get it.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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