Philly controller’s race — start your engines

    While New Jersey will have a governor’s race in 2013, it will be mostly a quiet year for Pennsylvania politics.

    But one election will give Philadelphia Democrats something to fight about — the party primary for city controller.

    The controller is Philadelphia’s elected government watchdog, and two-term incumbent Alan Butkovitz will be facing a rematch with Brett Mandel, the civic activist who waged a spirited but losing campaign against him in 2009.

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    Mandel garnered media attention and support from liberal and progressive Democrats, but actually finished third with 28 percent of the vote behind former Common Pleas Court Judge John Braxton. Butkovitz got 42 percent in the low-turnout election.

    Butkovitz will make his case that he’s taken the office beyond the mindless bean-counting of routine audits.

    “We brought performance audits on a big-time scale,” he said. “So the question isn’t simply whether the numbers are in the wrong column, but is the department doing what they’re supposed to be doing?”

    Mandel plans to attack Butkovitz as he did four years ago.

    “We don’t have a controller who is actively using that position to make sure that we are spending our money wisely,” Mandel said in an interview last week. “Instead, our controller is protecting his friends, pulling his punches, running for mayor from his office as controller. That’s not helping us.”

    That last point is an interesting wrinkle.

    Butkovitz is considered a potential mayoral candidate in 2015, which means he could win re-election as controller and resign in a year or less to run for mayor. Butkovitz isn’t ruling that out, and he said voters will judge whether it’s wrong for him to try for a different office.

    “This happens all the time,” Butkovitz said. “Tom Corbett was re-elected attorney general, and two years later he ran for governor. Bob Casey was elected state treasurer. Two years later he was in the United States Senate.”

    “It’s in the nature of politics and government that if you do a very good job where you are, there are people who’ll consider you for promotion,” he added.

    There are other candidates in the mix.

    Attorney Mark Zecca worked for 20 years in the city law department, where he says he served the public on important issues, including “gun control, ethics, campaign finance, (and) the SEPTA fare increase when SEPTA attempted to abolish transfers and we rolled that back.”

    And attorney Michael Williams, who headed the city’s Minority Business Enterprise Council under Mayor John Street, has a website and says he’s running.

    Williams said he wants to get an independent audit of the controller’s office, and use it to examine ways that city practices make it harder for businesses to operate in Philadelphia.

    The primary election is May 21.


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