What Black Business Owners in Philly Say About Senator Feltman

Business owners and employees on West Philadelphia’s 52nd Street responded with equal support and ambivalence to Democratic Senate candidate John Feltman’s surprise visit.

“Better than Oz” was the most important sentiment among those Billy Payne interviewed, referring to Feltman’s Republican opponent in the campaign, Mohammad Oz.

That’s not surprising, given voter registration demographics in neighborhoods around the business corridor and in Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 7-to-1 ratio.

“Oz is out of touch with people and their needs — even though I’m a business owner,” said Kelly Townsend, owner and operator of 2nd Threadz, a custom t-shirt store at 205 S. 52nd St.

On Monday, current Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Feltman toured the strip, sometimes referred to as the city’s “Black Broadway,” in one of his first appearances in Philadelphia after suffering a stroke before the May primaries. . He was joined by his wife, Gisele Fetterman, and three city council members: Isaiah Thomas, Kendra Brooks and Jaime Gauthier – on excursions in their area.

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According to a statement released by Feltman’s campaign, Gauthier was “honored and excited” by Feltman’s visit to the business corridor, in her words “a center for black business, arts and culture, and community in West Philadelphia. an extremely important place”.

After the exercise, Feltman stressed the importance of the region and others like it a tweeturging his massive online following of more than 800,000 users to “support local black-owned businesses.”

Like other business centers, the region is still struggling to recover from the devastation of the pandemic. 52nd Street is also one of the locations hardest hit by protests in 2020, with a spate of store break-ins only exacerbating the challenges posed by the COVID-induced business slowdown.

The day after Feltman passed, we retraced his steps, talking with employees and business owners on the street about his candidacy and what they thought would happen if he became Pennsylvania’s junior senator.

‘I wasn’t really forced to vote for anyone’

Feltman’s Walkable District began with the African Culture and Arts Forum, a family-run 52nd Street institution founded in 1969 that first sold African decorative arts before expanding into making its own incense and clothing, and selling soap , juice, etc.

Originally located on the west side of the city, ACAF moved into the famous Aqua Lounge jazz club once located on 52nd Street in the 90s.

Khadir Abdur-Rahim, son of co-founder Sharif Abdur-Rahim, noted that the Fettermans arrived quickly. “An hour before he got here, I was told he was coming,” Abdul-Rahim said.

Inside the African Culture and Arts Forum on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia
Kimberly Painter/WHYY

At the store, John and Gisele Feltman each bought something for their three children and spoke with Abdul-Rahim about working down the aisle and the upcoming election.

The next day, Abdul-Rahim said he appreciated the visit, despite growing suspicions it was a “photograph”. He was unfamiliar with Feltman’s political background, but did endorse the lieutenant governor’s term to lead the Pennsylvania Pardon Commission, an institution Feltman has been seeking to reform.

Still, the shop owner was ambivalent about going to the ballot box to give his consent.

“Personally, as a 26-year-old black American, I’m not really forced to vote for anyone,” Abdur-Rahim said.

This sentiment mirrors the views of many black people in a similar age range, although over the past few cycles black voters have been the racial group most likely to register and vote in the Commonwealth.

“Rebuilding an America that lives by the rule of law”

Further up at 52, Tedd Hall, owner of women’s clothing store Babe, says he’s “on Feltman’s corner.”

Hall, who is celebrating 50 years on 52nd Street this year, tends to vote Democrat but is particularly keen to do so now based on what he sees as a threat from the Republican Party.

“The whole country is under threat from MAGA Republicans, and I’m very concerned,” Hall said, echoing comments made by President Joe Biden in a recent speech outside Independence Hall. “I just support the idea of ​​rebuilding an America that follows the rule of law.”

Tedd Hall, owner of Babe, a boutique women's clothing store on 52nd Street
Kimberly Painter/WHYY

Hall’s comments were overshadowed by the reality of the American political duopoly. “Given the democracy that’s going on in this country, it’s either one or the other, so I support Feltman,” he said.

Asked about the Feltman campaign’s frequent emphasis on Oz’s ties to New Jersey, Hall said it was just another example of Republicans “saying one thing and doing another.”

As for what he wants Feltman to do when elected, Hall reversed that statement, agreeing with the candidate’s platform: “What I want him to do is do what he says, basically.”

“I want help with taxes…or keep me safe?”

A block south, Townsend of 2nd Threadz said she didn’t know the lieutenant governor was in town all the time, let alone on the street — but she saw plenty of ads for the race.

“Sometimes you vote against someone so I guess I vote for [Fetterman]Townsend said. She added, “If I were really concerned about politics, I would probably vote for him anyway.”

Although she is a business owner and understands how Republican tax policies can ease sales taxes, she believes Democrats are better for her family. “It’s like, ‘Do I want help with my taxes, or do I want to make sure I’m safe and my son is safe?'”

2nd Threadz, a custom T-shirt and accessories store on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia
Kimberly Painter/WHYY

Townsend noted that her significant other voted for Trump — a move she didn’t like — but he wasn’t planning to support Oz.

Splits between the two are not uncommon. A recent CBS poll found that 64 percent of Republicans want someone other than Oz to win the Republican primary.

‘You have to be on the street’

Although Feltman officially began his visit at ACAF, he first dabbled in dynamite pest control—a 53-year-old business founded by Richard Foreman Sr. 1969 – Developed game plan with Gauthier.

Richard Jr., Foreman Sr.’s son and heir to the company, recalled that Feltman had been having trouble hearing Gauthier because of construction outside. Feltman’s hearing was affected by his stroke in May, which he told The New York Times didn’t stop him from “running a completely normal campaign.”

“They asked if they could come in and meet, and I thought it was fine,” Foreman said.

When asked about the race, an ebullient foreman first joked that he voted for Oz.

“No, I’m just kidding you,” he said, before recalling a conversation he said he had with Republican voters about extermination while out and about. “Honestly, it’s funny how Republicans, Trump supporters, say ‘I wouldn’t vote for Dr. Oz.'”

He also said he was aware of a similar dynamic in the gubernatorial race, speaking of Republicans supporting the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, not Republican candidate Doug Mastriano.

If it has something to do with Feltman? “I don’t really know this guy, except he’s hard of hearing and he was here yesterday.”

Richard Foreman is the second-generation owner of Dynamite Pest Control on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia
Kimberly Painter/WHYY

That said, Foreman knows firsthand the potential impact of elected officials working with economic development centers, such as the Enterprise Center, which is building an office next to the explosives.

“We just reworked the outside of our store,” Foreman said, thanking the center and a Wells Fargo grant earlier this year. A few years later, it was a bright note that tested the resilience of Dynamite.

“We’re still recovering from the riots economically,” he said, and the harsh reality hasn’t stopped him from believing that the decriminalization of certain crimes is the right thing to do, he noted while discussing Feltman’s role on the pardon committee. up to this point.

Foreman said Feltman’s visit, if any, was a good first step.

“You have to be in the street, you have to do foot work, you have to be in the hallway.”

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