Mayoral Candidate John Featherman on Taxes, L&I, Marijuana and More
Did anyone know there’s a mayoral race next year? While we wait with baited breath to see if any Democrats will actually nut up and challenge Mayor Nutter in the primaries, let’s not overlook the fact that there is already one contender for the general election, realtor John Featherman, who announced his candidacy as a Republican back in June.
Featherman has run for office a number of times previously as a Libertarian and Republican (he says he grew tired of fighting for third-party ballot access and recognition, which is why he signed up with the big R), including for U.S. Congress, twice for Senate, and most recently for the now-defunct Clerk of Quarter Sessions in the 2007 elections. Though he hasn’t yet won an election, and knows first-hand how poorly Republicans tend to poll in overwhelmingly Democratic Philadelphia, Featherman remains undiscouraged, forging ahead without even the support of his own party– he’s a member of the Loyal Opposition, a group that has split with the Republican City Committee.
Featherman is almost sure to face an RCC challenger in the spring primaries, but no one has stepped up yet. For now, this is still a two-horse race, the Nutt vs. the Feather. Like many other past and future candidates, including Nutter himself, Featherman talks a lot about eliminating waste and cleaning up corruption in City Hall, and his take-no-prisoners mantra of “cut cut cut” sounds reminiscent of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But can Featherman deliver the goods to finally make an impact on our bloated budgets? Read on to find out where he stands on various subjects of interest:
Cutting the budget: I would rather look at wasteful government. For example, the so-called Department of Ethics? Complete waste of money. You’d save between one and two million dollars just excising them, because what they do is already done by the Department of Records and the Board of Elections.
I would go into L&I and at least cut between 20 to 25 percent. I would cut back a lot of their responsibilities. There’s always a risk that there can be homes that are unsafe, that’s something we have to address, but right now in this city there’s so many draconian steps we have to go through [to get permits and building modifications approved].
From the start, I would have examined every department for something to bid out. The ones where we thought it made sense, we bid it out. If you want to change the budget, you’ve got to excise it. If we can do it, I would bid out trash collection. And you don’t do it the Arlene Ackerman way of giving it out to your friends.
Council members’ Bill Green and Maria Quinones-Sanchez’s business tax reform plan to cut profit tax and increase receipts tax: There’s an assumption that there are no other options, like cutting things. Anyone who’s a dot.com, or a start-up, when they hear these things it doesn’t make them feel good to come to Philadelphia. A lot of the dot.coms make no profit the first three to five years, but they have tons of sales. In this environment that Green and Sanchez are proposing, over five years you’re going to see the gross receipts tax go up 300 percent. That’s not going to ingratiate them to young kids who want to start businesses.
[Mayor Nutter] said, “the economy is bad, we can’t cut the gross receipts tax.” It made me so mad. That’s one thing. Just one thing he could have done that would have changed everything. It stops young people from starting businesses and it stops people from wanting to come to Philadelphia.
Vacant land reform: The city should actually go to the Board of Realtors and say “We’ve got all these lots, we need you to sell them.” Because realtors can do a much better job than the city. We’re not employees, they don’t have to pay us anything, just a standard commission, and we sell for whatever the market does.
Center City real estate tax abatement, where property owners can avoid ten years of taxes: I’m probably the only person you’re ever going to meet who does not like the ten-year tax abatement. The ten-year tax abatement, in my opinion, should not be used any more for the high-end, rich, luxury buildings in Center City. It should be used as a tool for public policy to encourage people to build in North Philly, to build in Southwest Philly, to build in areas that really need help.
The mayor’s Office of Inspector General and Chief Integrity Officer, charged with cleaning up corruption in the city’s executive branch: I don’t know the answer. I have no idea. That’s something I could find out more about.
The Boy Scout controversy over giving free rent to an organization that does not allow gay members:I think it’s abhorrent that they discriminate. I understand the situation that legally they can, but I think it’s abhorrent that they don’t embrace and love everyone. Here’s the situation: When I found out they get free rent, nobody should get free rent! I don’t care if it’s Mother Theresa. The fact that people are getting free or very low priced rent is disturbing. That’s something that should be changed right away too.
Decriminalization of marijuana: Throughout my entire political career, I have supported decriminalization of marijuana, with an immediate decriminalization of medicinal marijuana. I took that stand long before it became a ballot issue in California and many other states. I support District Attorney Seth William’s decision not to waste of our limited law enforcement resources on issues involving “small amounts of marijuana for personal use.” While I disagree that it should even be prosecuted as a summary offense, it’s a step in the right direction. The war on drugs has been an expensive failure. We should shift gears and instead treat drug and alcohol abuse as a health issue and not as a criminal issue, concentrating on rehabilitation.
Conservative social values: I’m a libertarian. I’m not into the family values stuff. I support gay marriage. I support a woman’s right to choose. I’m socially inclusive. I’m fiscally very conservative.
Chris Christie: I like what I hear about him. I don’t know him. I like that he’s a straight talker. I like how he said it was almost an anomaly he got elected, and three years from now he may not. That’s going to be the same story with me. Chris Christie and I are not the same people. He has a lot of good things going on, even a lot of Democrats that didn’t vote for him are respecting that he’s at least able to clean things up. So yeah, I mean, I like him. Is he a role model for me? I don’t know him well enough, and I don’t try to work off what other people do. But I like the direction he’s going, and I like that there’s straight talk.
What it means to be a Republican in Philadelphia: It’s tough right now. It’s going to be tough for most Republican candidates. We are out-registered approximately seven to one. Right now, it means nothing. I mean, it all starts with the RCC. I’m on the other side. I’m a Loyal Opposition person. If you look at the history, we have done very little to build the party. It’s gonna take a new Republican City Committee to change that. We will have no significant impact until we change the people who run the party. Until we offer an urban agenda, we won’t have any significant impact.
Why he’s running against such long odds: Maya Angelou, the poet, once said if there’s a book you want to read that hasn’t been written, you must write it. My job is to help write that book. To reform the Republican party, to reform Philadelphia. Even if I don’t win, I’m the RCC’s worst nightmare. I’m running to win. I’m realistic, I understand the odds. But if I can accomplish one simple thing, like eliminating the gross receipts tax, I’ve done something very good for this city. I am going to run to win. It’s almost going to be like a suspension of disbelief.
Chinatown massages: I live in Chinatown. You don’t know Chinatown until you live there, by the way. There’s a place I go to, it’s right on 10th and Race, for $9, i get a shampoo, and a back massage, nine bucks. I tip the lady really well. For twenty minutes, she pushes all the pressure points in my head. It feels so good. My wife will go there with me too. It’s not a schmutz massage parlor. It’s a real haircut place.