What do an ex-cop and a pharmacist have in common? Both want to be Delaware auditor

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Democrat auditor-elect Kathy McGuiness has been appointed deputy state auditor until her official swearing-in on Jan. 1. She will replace her election opponent James Spadola, who was put into that post by current auditor Tom Wagner three weeks before voters decided to award the office to McGuiness. (Courtesy of James Spadola, Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Democrat auditor-elect Kathy McGuiness has been appointed deputy state auditor until her official swearing-in on Jan. 1. She will replace her election opponent James Spadola, who was put into that post by current auditor Tom Wagner three weeks before voters decided to award the office to McGuiness. (Courtesy of James Spadola, Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The position of auditor of accounts is not exactly a glamorous position in Delaware’s government.

But being the fiscal watchdog over a more than $4 billion budget is a critical job – and one of six statewide elected offices in Delaware government.

This year, though, 29-year incumbent Tom Wagner is not seeking re-election because of health reasons.

His replacement will be either Republican James Spadola or Democrat Kathy McGuiness.

Spadola is a former Newark police officer who had a short stint as a loan officer and now works for an education nonprofit. He also plays acoustic guitar in local pubs.

McGuiness is a pharmacist who ran her own drug store and a boot business. She’s also been an elected Rehoboth Beach commissioner for 17 years.

Both say they are singularly qualified to run the office that investigates possible misspending of state funds by agencies, schools and nonprofits such as fire companies. Many audits by Wagner’s office led to criminal charges and convictions.

Spadola said that in a state controlled by Democrats, including Gov. John Carney and both chambers of the General Assembly, the auditor must be a Republican.

“It’s one of the major reasons I’m running,’” Spadola said. “We don’t want Democrats watching other Democrats. That’s why I think a lot of voters recognize the importance of checks and balances and having somebody outside the ruling party watching the money.”

Spadola also said McGuiness has an inherent conflict because she has been endorsed by — and received donations from — prominent Democrats. She disagreed, citing her work in the popular beach town.

“People who know me and know my results know how I have served the public independently for years in a nonpartisan community full of Democrats and independents and Republicans,’’ she said. “I have voted by myself in front of hundreds of people at a public hearing. It’s almost insulting that I could be bought, but he doesn’t know me.”

McGuiness finished third in a five-candidate Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2016. But she said the auditor’s office is a perfect fit because of her business acumen and work on nonprofit boards. She also has worked for a private investigator.

“I’ve been holding people accountable my whole life,’’ she said. “I understand audits, finance, budgets, profit and loss. But, more importantly, I know how to manage and lead an office.”

To win, Spadola must overcome the Democrats’ nearly 2-1 voter registration advantage. He ran unsuccessfully against incumbent state Sen. Harris McDowell in 2016 but received 44 percent of the vote in an overwhelmingly Democratic district in the Wilmington area.

But he contends his experience in finance and policing would give the office more gravitas.

“What do police officers do? They investigate. And what is an audit but an investigation?’’ he said. “As a Newark cop, I investigated countless crimes: financial crimes, fraud, felonies, misdemeanors. I worked extensively with the attorney general’s office, which is an important experience for the auditor to have.”

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