Now that it’s campaign season, the battle for the head of Philly may finally be kicking into gear. And that means the usual: Attack ads, lawn signs and letting bygones between former party foes be bygones.
Except that’s usually not the case here in Philly. At least for Republicans. For years, the “Loyal Opposition” sect of the Republican Party—a group of conservative rebels working to oust Republican City Committee leadership because of consistent ineptitude and side deals with local Democrats—has refused to support those candidates endorsed by the party elites. And it seemed this year would be no different.
See, the RCC made an 11th-hour power play to run a longtime Democrat and candidate for City Council, Karen Brown, for mayor when it seemed like Loyal Opposition libertarian John Featherman might go unopposed in the Republican primary for mayor. Featherman ran a tough campaign against Brown, even comparing her and the RCC to former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi in a bizarre web commercial. He also claimed during a debate on NBC10 that he would not support her in the general election “under any circumstances,” should she win the nomination.
But then she won. By 64 votes.
Featherman laid relatively low afterward.
And then suddenly, two weeks ago, there he was, making enthusiastic calls on behalf of Karen Brown, announcing her intentions of walking a letter to City Hall challenging Nutter to a series of five debates in each corner of the city. So, why the sudden change of heart?
“I am not supporting Karen Brown,” says Featherman, a few days after Brown’s visit to City Hall. “And I am not endorsing her. I want to make that clear.”
Featherman says he was encouraged to meet with Brown by his 5th Ward leader, Mike Cibik. “I originally wasn’t going to meet, but I don’t want to be a sore loser,” Featherman says. “And I have my own motivation for doing it.”
Featherman wants a party leadership role, he says, when his group finally takes the power away from Michael Meehan and Vito Canuso, who run the RCC. He not only believes the trek out of Sore Loserville will help him achieve that, but understands that when he does finally coach Republican candidates from the helms of the RCC, there’ll be plenty of candidates under his belt whom he doesn’t necessarily agree with, or like personally.
So, for the time being, “we’re on the same page,” he says of himself and Brown. “We both believe that everybody is much better off as long as there’s a debate.”
Hell, maybe Brown can be used to further his and his coalition’s cause. “Brown can be the wedge that those in my group ... use to change the leadership at the top,” he says. “She will be the first to tell you she’s not satisfied with [current RCC leadership Michael] Meehan and [Vito] Canuso.”
And he’s not the only Republican to back Brown, even if the support is out of self-interest.
“We’re big boys, and we lost,” says Mike Cibik, a leader of the Loyal Opposition. “They won and that was the end of it. We’re not happy about [Brown] being a former Democrat … but it is what it is. I don’t want to say we’re stuck with her, but there she is. And what the hell can I do?”
“[Featherman] was a better candidate, but that being said, Karen Brown isn’t bad,” says Matt Wolfe, chair of the 27th Ward Republicans. “If the choice comes down to Karen Brown or Michael Nutter, it’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. Anything I can do to be helpful to her, I’m going to try and do.”
Of course, not everyone in the party feels the same way.
Loyal Op founder Kevin Kelly thinks Brown is simply the face behind a backroom deal, just another tactic in the GOP playbook that involves running fake candidates (or none at all) for seats in which they’ve already promised the Democrats no opposition, in exchange for patronage jobs at the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
“I wish [her] no ill will ... Karen Brown is literally a warm body that they could get to fill a slot,” he says.
Brown, for her part, says her relationship with the RCC has crumbled, going so far as to cast herself as a rebellious outsider, “because neither party wants me.”