John Featherman, a former Libertarian who lost a heartbreaking race against his party’s handpicked candidate for mayor of Philadelphia last year — falling short by a scant 64 votes out of nearly 17,000 votes cast in the Republican primary — is back on the campaign trail and waging yet another seemingly futile battle.
This time, the 48-year-old Center City realtor has set his sights on unseating entrenched Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, a fourteen-year incumbent, in Philadelphia’s 1st congressional district.
Despite recent redistricting in the state, which pitted two incumbent Democrats against each other in the state’s 12th congressional district north of Pittsburgh in the April 24 primary, the 1st congressional district remains overwhelmingly Democratic. The district includes most of central and South Philadelphia, the City of Chester, the Philadelphia International Airport, and other small sections of neighboring Delaware County.
A Republican committeeman in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, the reform-minded Featherman — one of Philadelphia’s lesser known yet most colorful and persistent political figures — is no stranger to long-shot candidacies.
In fact, he first ran against Brady as the Libertarian Party’s nominee in a 1998 special election to fill a vacancy created when the late Tom Foglietta, the district’s 17-year incumbent, was appointed Ambassador to Italy by President Clinton. (Interestingly, Foglietta was initially elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as an independent eighteen years earlier, defeating Abscam-tarred Congressman Michael “Ozzie” Meyers.)
Impressively, Featherman received the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the state’s largest and most influential newspaper, in that lopsided contest.
A respected expert on consumer privacy issues, Featherman garnered 45,765 votes against then-Sen. Rick Santorum as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate two years later.
Refusing to be discouraged by his earlier setbacks, Featherman also briefly challenged Santorum again in 2006 — this time for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination — but withdrew shortly after his nominating petitions were challenged.
Quickly becoming the City of Brotherly Love’s modern-day version of Harold E. Stassen, the former Minnesota governor who once ran for mayor in America’s birthplace, Featherman also ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Philadelphia’s now-defunct Clerk of Quarter Sessions post in 2007.
Describing himself as “fiscally conservative and socially inclusive,” Featherman isn’t your typical Republican office seeker. He’s pro-choice and supports gay marriage. He has also called for the decriminalization of marijuana.
Like Stassen, he’s smarter than your average Republican, too.
The witty and affable Center City real estate agent, who holds an undergraduate degree in economics and a master’s degree in accounting from Columbia University, remains undaunted about the almost insurmountable electoral task facing him.
After all, he’s faced much greater obstacles in his life. As a young boy, Featherman was almost killed when he was thrown from a horse, requiring a life-saving tracheotomy. Given little hope for a complete recovery, Featherman said he eventually found a specialist who performed a risky surgery thirteen years later, enabling him to again breathe normally through his mouth and nose.
As expected, the feisty GOP challenger promises to put up a gallant fight.
“I am sick and tired of my Republican Party being a branch of Bob Brady’s Democratic Party,” he said last January, shortly after declaring his candidacy. “Congressman Brady has a record — a record of failing the 1st Congressional District, which is the 2nd poorest district in the nation.” The seven-term lawmaker, he continued, has failed to take a leadership role in Congress and has not adequately addressed the needs of his constituents during his relatively inconsequential 14-year stint in the House.
The district needs a fighter, says the intrepid Featherman, not somebody who goes along to get along. “Look for me to engage a very smart and lean campaign,” he added.
Described as a “bumbling backbencher” by some of his detractors, the 67-year-old Brady probably isn’t losing any sleep over Featherman’s latest candidacy.
As the longtime chairman of the city’s powerful Democratic organization — one of the country’s few remaining big-city political machines — Brady hasn’t faced any general election opposition since 2008 when he demolished little-known Republican challenger Mike Muhammad by a 10-1 margin.
Moreover, as the city’s most powerful politician, Brady’s campaign coffers are flush with cash. According to his latest FEC filing, covering the period ending June 30, the Philadelphia Democrat reported $771,000 cash on hand — much of it raised from special interests.
By contrast, the maverick Republican had raised only $5,577 in contributions as of September 30, all of it from individuals.
Featherman apparently isn’t Brady’s only challenger on Nov. 6th. Chris Hoeppner, a longtime activist in the Socialist Workers Party, is also reportedly running as a write-in candidate. Readers of Uncovered Politics will recall that Hoeppner was momentarily viewed as a potential factor in last year’s special election for former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s congressional seat in New York’s 9th district.