Philly controller candidates spar in Democratic debate

Alan Butkovitz and Rebecca Rhynhart, the two Democrats running for Philadelphia city controller, met Tuesday night in Center City for a wide-ranging, and at times testy, debate that addressed pensions, the School District of Philadelphia, even Mayor Jim Kenney’s tax on sweetened beverages.

But it was the Philadelphia Parking Authority, perhaps the most criticized state agency in Pennsylvania, which came up more than once. Specifically, with respect to who is responsible for auditing it and how often.

Rhynhart, a former budget director running for the first time, believes the city controller should regularly review the PPA’s finances — similar to the way the office should routinely audit city departments.

“What I would want to do is audit the Parking Authority, get the money that should go to the schools, back to the schools, and take tough stances against the party establishment,” said Rhynhart inside Industrious Philadelphia, a co-working space high above South Broad Street.

Butkovitz, a three-term incumbent, last audited the PPA in 2009. But he argued it’s the state auditor general and state attorney general that have a real duty to investigate the agency.

Butkovitz said the controller’s office should take a more active role when it comes to the city’s woefully underfunded pension system, which lost $149 million in fiscal year 2016.

He added that his incumbency doesn’t mean he’ll avoid taking on tough issues or the city’s power players, as his critics have suggested.

“I have the scars of fighting the political system all the time that I’ve been in office,” said Butkovitz, citing high-profile investigations in a troubled sheriff’s office and the Nutter administration.

In March, much to the chagrin of former Mayor Michael Nutter, the controller’s office issued a report detailing more than $220,000 in questionable credit card charges from the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, a nonprofit.

The charges include Uber rides, flights and hotel rooms connected a trip to Rome, and a farewell party for Nutter.

The fund was established to “improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians,” according to its website.

Butkovitz said “high-quality” investigations — particularly out of the office’s newly created anti-corruption unit — would continue if he were elected to fourth term.

Rhynhart repeatedly vowed to push for modernizing city government.

“In departments across the city, there are typewriters being used for forms that haven’t been updated in 30-plus years. There’s so much opportunity to not just play the ‘gotcha’ game as city controller, but to say, ‘Here are some best practices for this department. Here’s how you can actually move the department forward,'” said Rhynhart

The latest campaign finance reports show Butkovitz has more to spend between now and the election.

On Monday Rhynhart began airing 30-second television ads, a rare sight for the low-profile seat.

The primary is May 16. The winner will face lone Republican Mike Tomlinson, who will have an uphill battle to win in a city where the vast majority of voters are registered Democrats.

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