DEVELOPER Ori Feibush, seeking to unseat City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson next year, filed a federal lawsuit yesterday accusing Johnson of obstructing Feibush's city real-estate transactions in "direct retaliation" for his candidacy.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, says that Johnson used his "councilmanic privilege" to hold up sales of vacant lots that Feibush was trying to buy on Cleveland Street near Wharton in Point Breeze. It also says that Johnson manipulated an open bidding process so that a rival developer, and not Feibush, was selected to purchase lots on Bouvier Street near Wharton.
Johnson, a first-term Council member and former state representative, previously has said that the Cleveland Street lots were being set aside for a new affordable-housing plan.
Reached by phone last night, Johnson denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
"I haven't received anything official on this matter, but it seems like politics as usual," he said. "I have been more supportive of projects under Ori Feibush, based upon him receiving support from the community, so those accusations are false."
Feibush, who is seeking at least $75,000 through the suit, did not return a request for comment.
Council members are able to influence sales of city-owned land in their districts thanks to councilmanic prerogative, an unwritten rule in which the entire Council defers to the member whose district includes the land up for sale.
Johnson's 2nd Council District includes the western half of South Philadelphia and all of Southwest Philadelphia.
Feibush, known for his combative style and often-controversial tactics, has become a polarizing figure in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze neighborhood.
He has raised at least $101,000 for next year's Council race. But he recently lost an apparent attempt to unseat 36th Ward Leader Anna Verna, the former City Council president.