The slogans back when Ori Feibush applied to Temple were different from what they are now. Several advertisements concluded that “You could have gone anywhere, but you chose Temple.”
But for Feibush, the Point Breeze developer who is seeking to upset Councilman Kenyatta Johnson for the 2nd district seat on City Council, the college application process went a little bit differently.
“Temple chose me,” Feibush, the Montgomery County-raised son of two chemists, said in an interview at his office Friday. “I applied for 13 colleges and Temple was the only one that accepted me.”
The owner of OCF Realty has made headlines for developing properties in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood, while simultaneously brashly criticizing Philadelphia’s political class, particularly Johnson.
Christopher Sawyer, who runs real-estate blog Philadelinquency and is cited by local media in stories on neighborhood development, called Feibush in a 2013 blog post “the sole reason that Point Breeze has started to turn around from among the worst Philadelphia neighborhoods to the hottest.” Sawyer declined to be interviewed for this article.
During his time at Temple, Feibush was vice president of community affairs at student-professional organization Gamma Iota Sigma, where he organized community improvements events.
“The opportunities where you’re … cleaning up vacant lots, setting up block cleanups. That’s what my roles were even at Temple,” Feibush said. “I’ve always wanted to improve the communities in which I’ve lived in … I’ve just been blessed to do that on a larger scale now.”
He graduated summa cum laude from the Fox School of Business in 2006, triple-majoring in risk management, economics and actuarial science. Feibush called his time at Temple a “phenomenal experience.”
Michael Leeds, an economics professor who taught Feibush during his time at Temple, said he “was a serious student, but he didn’t take himself overly seriously.”
“I remember his sense of humor,” Leeds said in an email.
Feibush believes that Temple students would be better served becoming interested in local rather than national politics.
“No one understands how relevant [city elections are] for the big decisions,” he said. “Getting involved … in Philadelphia is infinitely more important than voting for the President of the United States.”
Feibush repeated his oft-spoken assertion that city council’s poor policy decisions have “created a tale of two cities” in Philadelphia. He last repeated that during a debate with Johnson hosted by Philadelphia Magazine late last month. He’s accused the council of stubbornness over zoning and unwillingness to sell city-owned property, among other claims directed mostly toward his opponent Johnson.
The two first butted heads in 2010, Johnson’s first year in office, and two years after the developer had bought and developed a property bought in a sheriff’s sale into the OCF Coffee House at 20th and Federal streets. He was eventually sent a letter which argued that the city had sold him the property in error, he said.
“I [had] to litigate for the next two years for the right to keep a building I already paid for and renovated,” he said.
Then, there was the overgrown, trash-strewn lot next door, which he attempted to buy several times before eventually cleaning up himself. The ensuing scandal after the city sent him a letter claiming he was not allowed to do that was called “Lotgate,” and garnered national attention.
He is now suing Johnson, claiming that the councilman unethically used his power of “councilmanic prerogative,” which gives councilmembers some degree of control over sheriff’s sales in their districts. Feibush alleges that Johnson used this power to deny selling him a different lot in Point Breeze.
Johnson has denied the allegations on multiple occasions.
Feibush has no shortage of criticisms for Philadelphia’s elected officials. In one tirade, he claimed that serving as councilman is the only job Johnson “may be qualified to do.” In his current lawsuit against Johnson, the federal complaint filed by Feibush goes so far as to allege “some developers supported [by Johnson] are felons.”
Mayor Michael Nutter has called Feibush “some little jerk with a big checkbook.”
Feibush however, doesn’t see his desire to build in the Point Breeze community as anything to get riled up about.
“I think everyone that lives in every neighborhood wants to fix up their community,” Feibush said. “It’s why people get civically engaged. I just happened to apply that [passion] to one specific building at 20th and Federal and that started to grow my interest … in fixing up the community I was a part of.”
Feibush claims the stories of his dealings with city government are reflective of bigger city government problems.
“The fact that those stories end up on the front page … says so much less about me and so much more about our city,” Feibush said. “If our city functioned properly, you would never, ever have heard of me.”
Christian Matozzo can be reached at email@example.com.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the vacant lot which Feibush developed was across the street from his OCF Coffee House. It was next to it. The story also previously stated that Feibush’s lawsuit against Kenyatta Johnson was over that lot, but it was a different property. The story has been updated to correct these errors.