I’ll give some props to the @KJOvsOFE Twitter account…

Actually, Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush registered kenyattajohnson.com, .net and .org all the way back in November of 2013, well over a year ago.

What has this done?  Well it has certainly hammed up publicity for the council district race far beyond Philadelphia’s borders.  Say, to a blurb in the Houston Chronicle [chron.com]. Publicity is publicity.

But beyond that, most of the whining about the cybersquatting is from folks who already made up their minds long ago who they will be voting for in May.   I’ll give you an example.

Oh I was SOOOO gonna vote for Ori Feibush until THIS happened!
Oh I was SOOOO gonna vote for Ori Feibush until THIS happened!

I am certain this cybersquatting was only discovered when someone decided that Councilman Johnson needs to run something more visible than your average sleepy City Council incumbency campaign consisting of e-mails and insider fundraisers and a who’s-who party picture revue in the Philly Record.

Remember that about 20 days ago I posted this:


On Saturday Kenyatta Johnson also received a huge safety-line boost from a conga-line of establishment old-schooler Philadelphia pols, and it was pretty long. [Citified]

Someone convinced Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to turn up and judging from the presser pictures she was having a bad wig day.  Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. was there as well, and I could see the forehead of Councilwoman Cindy Bass.  The most important appearance: the chief over the local political establishment, Democratic City Committee boss Bob Brady also turned up.  So did Mayor Michael Nutter who called Ori a “little jerk”.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Mayoral Candidate Anthony Williams, and Congressman Brady [Public Record]
Aside:  I’m sure the Hizzoner is still pissed at Philadelinquency for the gas lien post about his house.  That went into the news cycle for a solid four days, made it to the Drudge Report and spawned two pressers from the mayor to explain his forgetfulness. After that affair Nutter’s press secretary has been even more of a dick than ever before.

Kenyatta’s Website Doesn’t Matter

In all fairness, Feibush’s cybersquatting also looks like a dick move, doesn’t it?   Someone who owns KenyattaJohnson.com should obviously be someone named Kenyatta Johnson.   There’s quite a number of KJ’s on the planet who could have bought that domain.   Certainly Johnson would have used it when he first ran for his state representative seat years ago.

But really, my take on the squatting is that it doesn’t matter.   It’s a nice to see his campaign crying foul over it.  It’s retribution for Kenyatta playing high-handed politics and picking favorites with over 300+ City-owned vacant and abandoned properties that he won’t release without the right kind of political and financial support in hand. [PhillyMag]  I guess if Johnson really wanted the domain names, he can curry favor (and $$$), to get the Internet property everyone’s bloviating about.

But to belabor the point a bit more–campaign websites don’t really matter in Philadelphia.  They’re nice-to-haves.   Even if you get the slickest template put up as an homage to the Obama campaign (which used some of the best web designers giving away loads of free time), campaign websites are still one-way communication.  Nobody but people who have already made up their minds who they’re going to vote for really visit them, and Philly incumbents really don’t need a website, they have the ward system.

And it’s the ward system that still picks and chooses who sits on City Council these days, even right now.  That’s why most of this “outrage” is mostly fake or registers as a 0.5 on the Richter scale.

The Ward System

Millennials, newcomers to Philadelphia… prepare to be schooled.

You might recall last year when Ori Feibush financially backed a whole slate of alternative committeepeople candidates across the wards of Point Breeze. [CityPaper]

During the last election cycle–which hardly anybody showed up at the polls to vote–a significant amount of problems were found in Democratic nominating petitions in Point Breeze.  A number of committeepeople who have run without opposition for years were booted off the ballot.  Some nominating petitions had an entire page filled with signatures of registered Democrats where every signature looked exactly the same.   The fight was quite intense.   Ward leader and former 2nd District Councilwoman Ana Verna was given quite a scare.  She was pale as a ghost when being interviewed by the Daily News.

Before this happened, nobody really thought much of Ori Feibush in the realm of “oh crap, Feibush is actually serious, he’s REALLY running for City Council.  Shit!”.   Most of the committeepeople-challengers were defeated but a few slipped in.   It gave many Democrat party wonks a scare, but the defeat allowed everyone to put their blinders back on.

This is the lower level of city politics that few people except news junkies, local pols and political gadflies monitor.  But this is the level of local politics that ultimately decides who is going to represent you on City Council.

Ever since party politics came about in Philly, the City has been broken up into weird little districts called wards.  Here is a map from the official DCC website, which looks about as old as party incumbency in Philly itself (below).   If you still have your voter registration card lying around, you’ll see “WARD DIV” on it.

Philadelphia Ward Map
Philadelphia Ward Map

The City is broken up into a series of wards and within each ward is another group of divisions.  You can get the map of the divisions in your ward here.

The ward system is an interpersonal human network and it’s also how the City’s polling districts are organized.  There is one (or more) polling stations for each division of a ward, or a combination polling station that serves multiple divisions within a ward.

The ward system historically served two functions for the benefit of a political party:

  • Connect the party to as many city residents as possible by channeling constituent service requests through the party
  • Use this “human network” to get out votes for the party

If you’re a committeeperson, the lowest rung of the political system, your job involves taking a day off  a year to get the voting lists and materials out to your division and also to circulate petitions.  Some committeepeople are more committed than that and also work as full-fledged campaign volunteers for a local pol (or even more than one pol).

Committeepeople meet and select one amongst their group to be the ward leader.   As a voter, you never get to say who gets to be your ward leader.   This is a job that’s within the political party–it’s not a public office.  But historically, the ward leader was often the mechanism where Philadelphians used to get the City to pay attention to something–like a pothole.   Funneling constituent service directly through the party allowed the party a deeper human bond with residents all across the city.

The telephone, e-mail/fax and now the City’s 311 system has mostly gotten rid of the need to call your ward leader when you need a pothole filled or someone to officiate your daughter’s wedding.  But the political street organization is still alive and kicking, and it’s still the critical mechanism by which your City Council member sits in his or her chair right now.  Given the historic way of campaigning for City Council and how hyperlocal it is, this direct method of reaching residents is a premium than a television blitzkrieg some statewide politician would do.

Our local pols have never known anything but this system to connect with Philadelphians.  For the rest of us, we moved from TV ads direct to hypermedia political campaigns with websites and robodialing.  That’s why it took so long for Camp Kenyatta to ascertain that the easiest DNS name had been scooped.   They’re only running a real campaign now because the mission is to save Kenyatta, and also preserve the political machine.

Ori Feibush’s cybersquatting ultimately matters little.   Long-time Philadelphians are more used to the ward system than they are to some slick WordPress template that has its font kerning just-right.   They’re far more accustomed to direct mail, block fundraisers, candidates appearing at civic association meetings and aren’t really that responsive to robo-dialing and websites.  Facebook is for Candy Crush, not to hunt down the policies of your local incumbent pol.

This archaic system doesn’t make sense to a lot of millennials or newcomers into Philadelphia.   The ward system is a terrible incubator that has made patronage a permanent feature of City government.   Children of ward leaders are often committeepeople.  The ward system was also a way to distribute City jobs before words like ‘merit-based hiring’ came along.

Whole departments of the City were nothing but hires suggested from Ward leaders.  Today, the Philadelphia International Airport happens to hold the title of the City’s patronage potty.  Before that, it was the Bureau for the Revision of Taxes who set your property assessments.   Some hires at the old BRT couldn’t figure their way around an adding machine, much less a computer.

And of course, nepotism and corruption go hand in hand.  Corruption is so woven into Philadelphia’s political fabric like it is because of the ward system.   Having more Republicans around would add some competition in Philadelphia, but that doesn’t deal with the ward system.  Republicans also have committeepeople and ward leaders, and before Mayor Tate also had many long decades of Republican control rife with nepotism and corruption.  We’ve had a political machine in Philadelphia since before the Civil War, and that machine’s bedrock is within the ward system.

The ward system is very resilient against outsider influence or even money.  It’s only proven weakness has been mass disgust that overgrows party interest.   Corrupt Republicans lost control over Philadelphia in the 1950s.   The breath of fresh air was literally a quick gasp, one mayoral term, when Joe Clark became Philadelphia’s first Democratic mayor.  Philadelphia also got a new city charter during the same political earthquake, which is the same one we live under today.

The virus that infected corrupt Republicans quickly spread to Democrats with the help of the ward system as everyone reshuffled positions under a new regime.

We’ve been under this regime ever since.

The virus even has its own mechanism to hand off its genes to new Philadelphians — at least most of the ones who are born here.   You have to remember, the ward system encouraged nepotism so within many of the City’s wards lie family relationships, not just colloquial ones.   This networking at a citywide scale is how the political machine survives from one generation to the next.

When you threaten the ward system, the response is visceral and it’s fierce.  The city’s political machine must survive at all costs or else it won’t be able to nurture wanna-be pols much less support the slate Philadelphia sends to Harrisburg and ultimately to Congress.  A lot of old incumbent careers rest upon the city’s ward system.  And I’m just talking about the world within the local Democratic party.


KenyattaJohnson.com is more than just some “little jerk” having some fun.  That it took over a year for anyone to really notice or that Johnson never grabbed the domains himself to maintain an Internet reputation just exemplifies what’s really important about a City Council campaign.

If you look at the broader picture, the reason why so many incumbents ran to Kenyatta Johnson’s campaign launch in solidarity says more about how the establishment is frightened at the ward system being broken than it does about anything else.

Kenyatta doesn’t have a message, other than “re-elect me and I’ll represent you.”

Earlier on this website I had asked people to put together a list of what Kenyatta Johnson himself has accomplished with his legislative pulpit in City Council.   After four years, here’s the list*:

That’s not much of a legislation resumé for four years occupying the 2nd District council seat.   This would mean if there was anything resembling a town-hall political debate it would probably quickly devolve down to hype, wish-lists and identity politics real fast, if not more time spent on hearing about Johnson’s hot/cold dog law, as one Point Breeze resident described “that he doesn’t shut up about.”

He could talk about his co-sponsorship of the Homestead Exemption, but in Point Breeze that would rapidly turn into a more spirited discussion about the wisdom of the Actual Value Initiative, a sore subject in the ‘Breeze, which will ultimately lead to the downward spiral anti-development speechifying of a typical drama-packed Point Breeze zoning meeting.  Johnson likes to stay away from those.

And since we’re on the topic of controlling your message…

Search Result #2
Search Result #2

Johnson probably should also look at cleaning his poor Google Juice.   When I google his name, the No. 2 search result that comes up the embarrassing news story about the tax status of his Peace Not Guns charitable organization, since disbanded, where Johnson could not recall what kind of amount it received in donations.   The website has also disappeared from the Internet.

Perhaps those who are quick to channel their Internet outrage of Feibush’s cybersquatting  might want to sit down with their ward leaders and school them on how important it is to support candidates that New Philadelphians can identify with, and not just depend on their blinket liberalism to select their chosen slate of nobodies who know how to network within the old ward system.

Wannabe Mayoral Candidate Jim Kenney certainly gets the picture: [h/t Brian Hickey, Newsworks]

Hipsters? Those guys on bikes? Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Kenney wants to be your friend. And your mayor. He’s hanging up his Council-At-Large hat on Thursday and wants your vote.


* I’m not including the eminent domain land grab bill, as that was in the works before Johnson took over from former Councilwoman Ana Verna who used to occupy his seat.

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We aren't going anywhere!  1601 Washington Ave is the parking lot in front of this store
We aren’t going anywhere! 1601 Washington Ave is the parking lot in front of this store

In a decision that came down from Common Pleas court judge Linda Carpenter, a proposed apartment development [PlanPhilly] for 1601 Washington Avenue (located here), the empty parking lot at the NW corner of 16 and Washington Avenue, has hit a snag.  In handwritten notes on the order it reads:

The Board [Zoning Board of Adjustment] failed to make findings of facts and conclusions of law pertaining to each of the key requirements to support the grant of the variance and thus this court was unable to determine the basis for the Board’s decision and effective appellate review could not be exercised.

Hmm.  Are the ZBA’s lawyers that bad that they didn’t know how to properly support a decision?  And generally, while PDQ is not a legal expert by any means–often we see judges take badly-formed responses in court pleadings and give one side or the other a chance to fix their statements.  On the docket it doesn’t look like Judge Carpenter gave the ZBA leave to amend their filing.

The reason why the apartments had to go through zoning was because apartment buildings on I-2 zoning is not allowed without a variance.  While South of South Neighborhood Association, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and many others supported the project, opposition came in the form of a few residents who did not wish to see any further residential uses on Washington Avenue, but was light.

The most fiercest opposition of all was the supermarket who uses the empty lot as a parking lot for its customers.  A parking lot that it doesn’t even own.

In Lam vs. Zoning Board of Adjustment it appears the opposition of the adjacent property owner plus the skills of the ZBA’s own lawyers (see judge’s order) have put a kink in the plans.   A supermarket sits behind 1601 Washington Avenue, and it was from here that Hue My Lam and Hai Tuan Ngo had proximity interest in appealing the decision.

After all, building an apartment building on the parking lot will obstruct the signage of the supermarket.   Neither Lam nor Ngo actually own 1601 Washington where their customers park, so they probably wouldn’t be able to install signage along Washington Avenue to direct attention to their store.

While this might be a significant setback for the developers and also for residents within SOSNA to see this ugly surface lot with its broken asphalt remain for longer, something tells me that some more court action will be coming, namely in the form of an appeal to Commonwealth Court to reverse Judge Carpenter’s ruling and re-instate the variance.

Although right now the rumor is circulating that the developer has given up.  I’ve put out feelers to the developer and his attorney and if either get back–we’ll let you know.

If there’s to be any residential use on this vacant lot, the only sure way that this will happen now and to avoid yet another court challenge is with specific zoning legislation from Councilman Johnson.  That doesn’t appear to be likely.

1601 Washington Ave – Judge's Order

Notice of appeal – 1601 Washington Ave

ZBA Response & Conclusions of Law – 1601 Washington Ave

Brief of Intervenor (Property owner of 1601 Washington Ave)

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Kenyatta Johnson

I’m scratching my head on this one.   Since every incumbent around is scrambling to prop up 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, it seems to be a fair question to ask what he’s actually done for this city.

I can think of two:  outlawing bb guns, and banning 3D plastic gun parts from being printed inside Philadelphia (although you can print them outside Philadelphia and totally take the parts into the city), both of these are plagues which are killing thousands of Philadelphians annually, I’m sure.

Can anyone think of anything else?  You know… something substantive that actually matters.


If you couldn’t get enough of Club Aura owner Marc Stein and his curious views about race, I do have a full clip where Stein buries himself even deeper into a hole*.  LET’S WATCH!

1st Amendment badass attorney Marc Randazza again delivers an excellent performance in this deposition.   After Marc Stein had finished his deposition, his frivolous lawsuit had collapsed.

* I literally mean to say that hyperbolically.

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