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Brennan: Feibush and Johnson deserve each other, but Point Breeze deserves better

Only the jurors know for sure what went on during the two hours they deliberated the federal case of Ori Feibush vs. Kenyatta Johnson last week.

Only the jurors know for sure what went on during the two hours they deliberated the federal case of Ori Feibush vs. Kenyatta Johnson last week.

But, having witnessed much of the court case, I'm willing to bet they came away thinking Feibush and Johnson may well deserve each other.

Feibush, a developer in the Point Breeze neighborhood, came out on top.

The jury awarded him $34,000 for his claim that Johnson, a City Councilman for that area, had stymied his efforts in 2013 to buy city-owned land.

But Feibush, who unsuccessfully challenged Johnson in the 2015 Democratic primary election for Council while his lawsuit was pending, was after much more than that.

His lawsuit called for a judgment of more than $75,000, "plus compensatory, statutory, actual and other damages" for lost profits and opportunities.

Feibush also sought "equitable relief in the form of injunctive and declaratory relief" from what he saw as Johnson retaliating for his primary challenge. While testifying, he complained of being "frozen out" of the neighborhood.

On the stand, Feibush said he had expected to turn a profit of $264,000 by developing the two city lots that Johnson refused to let him purchase.

His attorney wrapped the case, asking the jury to award Feibush $275,000.

So Feibush walks away with just 12 percent of his projected profit. And that injunctive relief? Feibush didn't push for it at trial.

That's important, because Feibush fashioned this as a First Amendment case, claiming his right to both develop land and run for office were violated by the tradition of "councilmanic prerogative."

That tradition, not codified in any law, gives the 10 Council members representing geographic districts enormous power to stop any land use requiring legislative approval.

On the stand, Feibush and Johnson naturally tried to cast themselves in the best possible light.

Neither had the knack for evoking sympathy.

Johnson, in trying to play the big-picture guy who develops policy and then sends his staff out to execute it, came off as evasive, repeatedly saying he didn't recall details of land-use projects he helped happen in his district.

An example: Asked whether he ever asked the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to sell city-owned land to specific individuals, Johnson replied, "Not that I can totally recall."

That was one of 17 times I counted Johnson saying he couldn't recall details.

Shooting for statesmanship, he sounded simply disconnected from it all.

Feibush, who has a curious way of picking fights and then presenting himself as the victim of an attack, tried to use each answer in his testimony to tell his whole life story.

He opened with his resume, his top-of-his-class time at Temple University followed by "years working to effect positive change" and then the rough patch with Johnson.

"My life got turned upside down," said Feibush, who has played a role in the construction of hundreds of homes in Johnson's district.

"Your life got turned upside down because you didn't get two properties?" a city attorney asked with heavy skepticism.

"Yes," Feibush replied.

Expounding on his entrepreneurship, he only emphasized his own ego.

It was - if you are a nerd for the granular detail of city policy and the personalities who shape it - entertaining to watch.

But it didn't change a thing about how district Council members can veto just about any use of land that requires their legislative input. That tradition is still alive and kicking.