Two ‘outsider’ candidates vie for city controller seat

With less than one week until the election, city controller candidates Rebecca Rhynhart and Mike Tomlinson discuss their plans if elected.

The race is on: Republican Mike Tomlinson, from Holmesburg, describes the city pension fund as a “mismanaged disaster,” citing a $7.3 billion deficit. Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart, who is seeking to become the first woman controller, believes she offers something unique, job-related experience without being part of the business-as-usual crowd.

Philadelphians will elect a new city controller next Tuesday, either Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart or Republican Mike Tomlinson.

Rhynhart defeated incumbent Alan Butkovitz in the primary.

Both candidates are positioning themselves as outsiders.

“The establishment is controlling the controller,” Tomlinson said.

Rhynhart dismisses talk that she won’t stand up to a Democratic administration.

“I will be independent,” she said.

Rhynhart, 43, an Abington High School graduate who now lives in Center City, has a 7-year-old daughter who is in second grade at Greenfield Elementary School. She boasts 15 years of financial experience in the private and public sectors, including nine years as city treasurer, budget director and chief administrative officer.

Still, when she challenged Butkovitz, she had little institutional support. Her backers included former Gov. and Mayor Ed Rendell and the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. She had the support of only one Democratic ward leader, Steve Jones, of the 52nd Ward.

Rhynhart, who is seeking to become the first woman controller, said she believes the controller’s office already has some talented personnel.

“I want to keep good people,” she said.

While Rhynhart is making her first run for office, Tomlinson is making his third bid. He previously ran in the 5th Senatorial District and 173rd Legislative District.

Tomlinson, 61, of Holmesburg, a 65th Ward, 22nd Division committeeman, has had a 31-year career as an accountant, including six years as a controller and 15 years as an auditor. He’s been a CPA and a math, accounting and finance teacher in the public schools.

He has four daughters and six grandchildren, all of whom live in Philadelphia. He’s a member of the Tacony-Holmesburg Town Watch, Friends of Holmesburg Library and Holmesburg Civic Association. He’s a Sunday school teacher at Calvary Chapel and a former lector at St. Bernard. He’s a longtime youth sports coach and currently a softball coach for the Lansing Knights.

On the campaign trail, Tomlinson calls for transparency on City Council’s budget, “bloated” city contracts and a city workforce too big for the population. He vows a full audit of the School District of Philadelphia, contending there is plenty of waste and fraud, and will include charter schools in his examination. He describes the city pension fund as a “mismanaged disaster,” citing a $7.3 billion deficit.

The savings he finds, he said, could help address the 26-percent poverty rate in Philadelphia, put more police officers on the street and modernize police district buildings.

“I am going to identify the waste. It’s there. I just want to set things straight in this city,” he said.

Tomlinson, who is legally blind, has taken his campaign across the city, including talking to voters when he rides the El.

“I don’t have a lot of resources, but I do what I can to bring this to people’s attention,” he said.

Rhynhart believes she offers something unique, job-related experience without being part of the business-as-usual crowd.

“I know how the city operates, but I’m a complete outsider to the political game,” she said.

Rhynhart describes her campaign as a movement to make government more efficient and effective. She hopes to be a transformational controller, promoting transparency and weeding out waste.

The savings she finds, she hopes, will go to public schools and to discourage tax increases.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority, she contends, is not coming close to its promise to send sufficient revenues to the School District of Philadelphia.

“Improving the schools is extremely important,” she said.

If elected, Rhynhart will look forward to taking a seat on the pension board. The board also includes four members selected by unions and four chosen by the mayor.

“The city controller is often the deciding vote,” she said.

Win or lose, Tomlinson is looking forward to a planned weeklong vacation in the Poconos, beginning Nov. 10.

Rhynhart said she has not had discussions about a transition with Butkovitz.

“The focus has been on November,” she said. “I’m campaigning hard. I’m excited. I’m honored to be successful to this point and I’m glad to be of service.”

Tomlinson identifies his strongholds as the Northeast, the river wards, South Philadelphia, Roxborough, Manayunk and East Falls. He also has support among Democrats and the Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish communities, and could benefit if Beth Grossman, the Republican candidate for district attorney, has an especially strong showing.

“I need to talk to 80,000 people. Eighty-thousand votes is a winner, according to past statistics,” he said

Rhynhart, who enjoys advantages in fundraising and voter registration, would like to see a big turnout, because of her race and the statewide judicial contests.

“Get out and vote November 7th,” she said. ••