Tomlinson ready for uphill race as GOP controller candidate in Philly

     Mike Tomlinson is running as a Republican to be Philadelphia's controller. (Provided)

    Mike Tomlinson is running as a Republican to be Philadelphia's controller. (Provided)

    In the May Democratic primary, former Philadelphia finance director Rebecca Rhynhart staged a shocking upset, beating a three-term incumbent to become the party’s nominee for city controller.

    But there’s another race to run this fall, and Republican Mike Tomlinson is ready to take his shot at the office.

    Tomlinson is a Philly guy, through and through.

    He grew up in the Northeast, delivered the Bulletin as a kid, worked at the Mayfair Diner, and earned a degree in business administration from Temple.

    He spent much of his career in auditing and financial compliance in private companies. He taught school for a while. Then, seven years ago, his life changed.

    “I went legally blind,” Tomlinson said in an interview. “I was doing a consulting agreement down in Virginia, and they didn’t renew my consulting contract because I couldn’t see the computer.”

    Tomlinson learned in his 20s that he had a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which could impair his vision; eventually, it did.

    He’s still legally blind, but he’s had a lot of vocational therapy, and — with the help of some high-tech equipment — he can read documents and has returned to work.

    For the next three months, though, he’s concentrating on his campaign.

    Does he have a chance?

    Tomlinson faces an uphill battle in a city where Democrats have a seven-to-one registration edge.

    Philadelphians last elected a Republican city controller in 1969. That was Tom Gola, who’s better remembered for his basketball career than his political impact.

    Tomlinson’s strongest argument is probably that, while Democrats rule City Hall, it makes sense to have somebody from the other party watching the books.

    Republicans have been making that case, but it hasn’t been a winning one for nearly 50 years.

    Tomlinson said the school district and the city pension fund aren’t getting the scrutiny they should, and that he has the background and independence to change that. And, like other Philadelphia Republicans, he’s adopting a more moderate profile than the national party.

    “I’m not some right-wing, lunatic conservative,” he said. “I’m a centrist, and I care about the community. I’m known as an advocate for the homeless and the drug addicted up here in our neighborhood.”

    Rhynhart is not only a Democrat, Tomlinson said, but a former official in the last two mayoral administrations, which will make it hard for her to be as tough an auditor as she should be.

    Because she ran against and beat the Democratic machine, Rhynhart said she has the independence to do the job taxpayers deserve. And, she says, she knows the government well.

    Tomlinson has another problem, which pretty much every Philadelphia Republican faces: It takes money to get a message out, and it’s hard to raise it when you’re facing the kind of odds he does.

    Rhynhart raised $500,000 this year. Tomlinson has raised about $15,000. He says he knows what he’s up against.

    “We realize the David and Goliath thing here,” he said, “but the United States hockey team beat Russia, so I’m running this campaign as if it can be won.”

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