Al Schmidt: Republican candidate for City Controller

Meet Al Schmidt. He’s running for a low-profile office during increasingly tough times. Schmidt is the Republican candidate for City Controller, running against incumbent Democrat Alan Butkovitz.

The City Controller is responsible for overseeing government spending and auditing the appropriate agencies, something Schmidt says Butkovitz hasn’t done, and something he vows to do himself, if elected.

Note: NEast Philly also conducted interviews with incumbent Alan Butkovitz and one of his opponents in the Democratic primary, Brett Mandel.

Name: Al Schmidt Raised: North Hills, Pittsburgh Lives: East Falls Position: candidate for City Controller, former senior analyst for the Government Accountability Office Education: Vincentian Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, PA.  Allegheny College undergraduate.  Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Boston, MA. Family: Wife Erin and 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Maggie

Continue reading for an interview with Schmidt about his goals as potential City Controller, and his relationship with the Northeast.

Why are you running for City Controller, and what makes you stand out as a candidate?

The City Controller’s office is responsible for overseeing how effectively and efficiently the city spends money. We haven’t had audits of city agencies on a regular basis for years.  That means our city has no effective checks or balance.

My qualifications are why I’m running. I served as senior analyst at the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office – the investigative arm of Congress. In that role I assisted members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, in conducting oversight of government agencies, programs, and policies– anywhere taxpayer dollars were spent – to identify waste, fraud, and mismanagement.

Was there something specific that made you first take an interest in politics?

My first political memory was Ronald Regan’s inauguration on TV [when I was] in the fourth grade.  But my reason for getting actively involved in politics has to do with my frustration working for Congress.  I can’t get used to the idea that politicians often make decisions on how it would help them as opposed to the people they represent.

The City Controller race doesn’t get much attention. Why is that, and why do you think it should get more?

People don’t get interested in a contest like this unless they’re angry. And there’s a lot to be angry about. We’re the highest taxed city in the country, and we’re in a financial crisis. We can’t live with the thought that libraries could be closed, police and fire positions could be eliminated, and trash not being picked up. The job of the city controller is to audit each department and ferret out waste and inefficiency. We haven’t had that since Jon Saidel was controller.

What do you think are the most important issues at hand for this election?

Our city officials have spent the last year explaining to us that the city has no money.  As a father and husband, I know that the economic troubles of this past year have impacted everyone – families, businesses and all levels of government.  As a candidate, however, I am astonished at some of the options presented to this city’s hardworking residents during this time – sales tax hike or lose fire and police services; defer pension obligations or close libraries and recreation facilities across the city.  Just as families have learned to budget and reduce spending this past year, I want to make sure that our city is taking every step possible to make sure that every penny is spent the right way for this city.

You came to the debate NEast Philly co-hosted with WHYY back in May for the Democratic candidates. It got pretty heated at times. What did you take away from that?

It got pretty heated because this is an important election for our city.  The incumbent got less than half of the vote. People aren’t happy with his performance. That’s what I take away from it.

You’re running against Alan Butkovitz, who is from Castor Gardens. Do you think Northeast residents will be more likely to vote for a Northeast candidate?

I understand that some people who live in the Northeast will vote for Butkovitz because of that. But I’m hopeful that when they realize I’ll be down the mayor’s throat looking for ways to say money and get better services, that these folks will reconsider their position. Of the two candidates, I’m the one who won’t cozy up to Mayor Nutter.

How would you differ from the incumbent as City Controller?

I would audit every agency, every year as required by the City Charter.  Right now, we aren’t even looking for fraud.  I would also bring independence to the office, as a minority party candidate.  Right now, we have a ward leader auditing ward leaders.  That isn’t good government.

Do you feel disadvantaged at all by being a Republican candidate in a typically Democratic city?

There isn’t a Republican or Democratic way to pick up trash or audit the books.  Either you do it, or you don’t.

Schmidt and his daughter Maggie shovel snow. Courtesy of Al Schmidt.
(Schmidt and his daughter Maggie shovel snow. Courtesy of Al Schmidt.)

We hear your wife is from the Northeast. Whereabouts?

Erin grew up in Mayfair and, later, in Torresdale.  She was raised on Sheffield Street and attended J.H. Brown Elementary, Thomas Holme Elementary and Austin Meehan Middle School.  She is a graduate of Central High School.  Through my wife’s family, I have come to learn a great deal about the Northeast and the wonderful families who make their lives there.  My wife’s family lives in the Northeast and we also attend church there.

You can vote for Philadelphia’s next City Controller Nov. 3 in the city’s next general election. Click here to find your nearest polling place.

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