This is a brutal ad by Ori Feibush, who is running against Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in Philadelphia’s desperately poor and blighted 2nd District:
It is effective because it is true: Johnson’s neighborhood -where he was born and raised- is one giant blighted, trash-strewn lot because the councilman doesn’t give a shit. He really doesn’t. In fact, if it wasn’t for Johnson’s intervention, one particular blighted crumbling building might actually be serving the community: that would be the Barrett Educational Center, the tax delinquent, non-functional nonprofit that got Kenyatta’s fake nonprofit Peace Not Guns at least one grant back in 2011. Won’t you join me on a trip down the rabbit hole?
In 2008, Johnson connected one of his associates, a man name Insukba Lyons, with Tiphanie White, who owned and ran the Barrett Education Center (BEC) nonprofit out of 1300 S. 24th. I don’t know the extent of their relationship, but Lyons and Johnson are close enough to be friends on Facebook:
In October 2008, operating as a business entity known as Small World Educational Center…
…Lyons bought the building from Ms. White for a dollar:
Two months later, BEC’s executive director Tiphanie White (who describes Johnson as her mentor) announced that the center would re-open in 2009 with all sorts of new amenities and programs, with rebuilding to be done by an outside company called SIBS ENTERPRISES:
By 2011, when Johnson applied for his grants through the BEC, none of the promised work had been done, the building was in worse shape than ever, and Lyons had been delinquent in his taxes since he bought the building (he is still delinquent):
Turns out Lyons has a long history of getting sued for not paying his bills: I found numerous claims against him and his business entities as a defendant, all of which he lost, which you can find by searching his name at the Philly court’s civil dockets. I spoke or emailed with three different individuals, including two involved with the BEC project, who had nothing good to say about Lyons, and characterized him as a dishonest person and a scoundrel. Lyons also lost a $40,000 claim from a a woman he convinced to take out a loan for home repair, after which he hired cowboy contractors who didn’t know what they hell they were doing, and who damaged her home (thank you Mr. Sawyer for the research):
He even got sued by the guy who designed the BEC website and some of Peace Not Guns’ brochures too!
Today, the former head of BEC works in Johnson’s office (and she was/is the secretary of Peace Not Guns). Johnson applied for a grant through BEC in 2011 (3 years after the executive director he mentored sold the organization’s building to his friend Lyons, and watched her family’s legacy and property fall to pieces literally as well as figuratively). Lyons is on Johnson’s Facebook list of friends. The ties are so close and so strong that it seems highly implausible to me that Johnson didn’t know that his associate Mr. Lyons was doing wrong by the organization, by the neighborhood, and by the family that ceded this valuable piece of real estate to him for a dollar (it was worth a little more than $7,000 at the time; today, it is assessed at more than $160,000). The building is a crumbling eyesore, exactly the kind of blight that Johnson claims to want to fix: after all, this is the guy who supports “Safer Neighborhoods and Improving our Quality of Life” and “Clean and Green”. Did Johnson, who was born, raised, lives in, and has represented the area since 2009 not see anything? Did Ms. White, who seems to have been ripped off, say nothing? When Johnson asked White or Lyons (or whoever was representing BEC) to act as fiscal sponsor for his ill-gotten grants, did no one ever bring up the topic of the promised repairs and improvements that never happened ? Guess not. The councilman can’t get off his ass and tell his buddy “Hey pay your taxes and either maintain your building or I’m gonna sic L&I on you”?
Maybe the condition of the BEC isn’t Johnson’s fault, but this sordid story doesn’t speak much of him as a leader or someone who cares about his community.
Tip of the hat to Philly Mag, which wasn’t interested in pursuing this story back in 2014 when I first dug all this up. I thought it was important enough.