Showdown in Philadelphia controller’s race

 Challenger Rebecca Rhynhart and Incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Challenger Rebecca Rhynhart and Incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Besides voting for district attorney, voters in Philadelphia Tuesday will cast ballots for city controller, the city’s elected financial watchdog.

The Democratic primary pits three-term incumbent Alan Butkovitz against challenger Rebecca Rhynhart, a former city budget director and chief administrative officer.

Each candidate is running a single TV ad, and both attack their opponents.

Rhynhart’s pitch is that she’s a financial expert, not a politician.

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Her TV ad opens with a picture of Butkovitz next to the words “political hack.”

“Alan Butkovitz has been running for office for 27 years. He raised his own pay, padded his pension,” an announcer says.

The pay raise accusation goes back to Butkovitz’s days in the state Legislature. It includes a controversial 2005 pay raise that Butkovitz says he voted for, but did not accept and never benefited financially from.

When Rhynhart’s campaign includes that pay hike and compares legislative salaries in 2005 to 1995, they come with a whopping 72 percent increase.

Butkovitz said in an interview that, besides including money he never got, the accusation reflects an elitist attitude on Rhynhart’s part.

“That’s the exact same line she took with city workers, that somehow despite inflation and everything else, people should live with whatever they were paid in 1990 or 1995,” Butkovitz said.

Butkovitz refers to the sometimes contentious relationship Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration had with city unions in contract negotiations.

Rhynhart was a member of the administration’s financial team, but didn’t set collective bargaining policy in those negotiations.

Butkovitz’s ad notes that, as city controller, he donated some of his salary back to the city during the financial crisis following 2008. That amounted to about $40,000, he said.

While Rhynhart condemns Butkovitz as a professional politician, his ad calls her a “Wall Street and city insider.” Rhynhart worked for Bear Sterns for three years early in her career.

Butkovitz said he’s used the office to focus on performance audits which take deep dives into areas of city government in need of reform.

Rhynhart charges that Butkovitz’s audits are influenced by his political relationships. Butkovitz says his political power gives him the independence to take on anyone.

Rhynhart has the backing of Ed Rendell, the former mayor and governor. Butkovitz has support from a raft of unions and Democratic and ward leaders.

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