In the race to be city controller, incumbent Alan Butkovitz is pulling no punches.
The 65-year-old three-term controller – seeking his fourth in next week’s primary – will face off against Rebecca Rhynhart, 42, who has previously served as Philadelphia city treasurer, budget director under Mayors Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney, and as Kenney’s chief administrative officer.
In a recent interview, Rhynhart claimed Butkovitz is part of the “political machine in Philadelphia” and argued that he wouldn’t stand up to that machine when the time came.
However, in an interview Thursday, Butkovitz said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“What she is pretending to be, we already are,” argued Butkovitz.
Butkovitz said that while Rhynhart is running on a platform to “streamline and modernize” the city controller’s office, he is already looking for what is next for the office.
And what’s more, he said, if Rhynhart is elected and wants to investigate corruption as she has claimed, she would have to start by recusing herself from investigations into anything that may have happened when Nutter was in office because she was formerly city treasurer and budget director.
“What’s the point of electing her if she would have to recuse herself from all those investigations?” asked the city controller. “It tells me, what she wants is just to have an elected office.”
Rhynhart disagreed and said such instances would be rare.
“I oversaw four percent of city departments; even if I recused myself and appointed a deputy to oversee those audits, my office would be auditing more than Alan Butkovitz does,” she said in an email.
Since 2006, Butkovitz has held the office of city controller. It has been a tenure that, he said, has left him with “scars” along the way. Most notably, Butkovitz recalled his work that ended up helping bring fraud charges to former Philadelphia Sheriff John Green.
“I took on the establishment and got scars going after Green,” recalled Butkovitz.
But Butkovitz also ruffled feathers with former Philadelphia schools chief Paul Vallas when he looked into no-bid contracts that Vallas had for promised school buildings. It was an investigation that even brought threats from disgraced Senator Vince Fumo.
“We couldn’t find any schools that were being built,” said Butkovitz. “During that process, I got a call from Fumo saying, ‘Cut it out,’ but I couldn’t do that.”
More recently, Butkovitz audited the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, a nonprofit that received funding from the Philadelphia Marathon and was intended to fund scholarships and city programs. Last year, he found that the fund’s former chairperson, Desiree Peterkin-Bell, used the nonprofit for other expenses like travel and a new pair of shoes.
Also, when asked about Rhynhart’s claim that the Philadelphia Parking Authority hasn’t been audited since 2009, Butkovitz scoffed. He said that the PPA, which is monitored by the state, actually submits a yearly audit and anything further should be done by the state.
However, Butkovitz said that if Rhynhart was concerned about this issue, she should have said something when she was working in Nutter’s administration.
“Rebecca was actually an insider on that,” said Butkovitz, adding that instead of demanding a state audit of the PPA, Nutter’s administration renegotiated a street-parking contract with the group.
Rhynhart called that statement “bizarre and pathetic” and accused Butkovitz of “turning a blind eye to corruption at the Parking Authority. Alan himself knows the budget director has nothing to do with the Parking Authority.”
Asked what he hopes to achieve if re-elected, Butkovitz said one of the issues he’s studying is the automation of the workplace. With changes to how people work and with robots entering the workplace, he said that his office is looking into making sure the controller’s office keeps up.
“The mayor and City Council are worried about today, but the controller’s office has the ability to be thinking about tomorrow,” he said.