Criticized by some for lacking experience as an elected official and praised by others for the exact same reason, Rebecca Rhynhart is the underdog with an edge.
That edge was on display when Rhynhart, a candidate for city controller – effectively Philadelphia's chief financial officer – confronted incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz during a debate Tuesday night.
“My opponent is so beholden to the political machine that he does not take the tough stances that I would make,” Rhynhart said.
"I have the scars of fighting the political system for all the time I’ve been in office,” Butkovitz hotly retorted.
Rhynhart, 42, claimed during the debate, “Voters have a choice: four years of the same, or a new vision.” Butkovitz, 65 and in his third term, told her, “You're unaware of the office's history."
Rhynhart has 15 years of experience in finance, in part with Bear Stearns right before their 2008 collapse, and since then as Philadelphia city treasurer, budget director under Mayors Nutter and Kenney, and as Kenney’s chief administrative officer until last December.
Butkovitz, previously an attorney, has a reputation for going against the grain and exposing fiscal waste in high-profile investigations, from city paramedics’ chronic tardiness to sometimes miniscule inefficiencies in city agencies.
If elected, Rhynhart wants to overhaul the controller's office, and she said she isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers in the process. Here’s how Rhynhart wants to get the job done.
What made you want to leave the private sector and enter public service?
After several years of working on Wall Street, I saw that government didn’t always make the best financial choices for themselves. I wanted to use my experience to help government make the best choices it can make. I’m from this area and care deeply about this city. People deserve a government that makes good financial decisions.
How are you qualified to make real change happen in the Office of the City Controller?
I have no problem standing my ground – I wouldn’t be running for office if I couldn’t. I’m running based on my qualifications. I have more financial experience than Butkovitz ever had. I can stand up to the mayor if I need to. The much bigger issue here is my opponent’s being part of the political machine in Philadelphia, and he doesn’t actually stand up to that machine.
What are some of the first issues you would tackle if you were elected?
The Philadelphia Parking Authority hasn’t been audited since 2009. There are millions of dollars there to give to the schools. There’s real money, and we need it. Overall, we can save a minimum of ten million dollars to give to the schools and rec centers of Philadelphia. I would also want to do an independent audit of the Controller’s Office itself.
What was the final push that made you want to run for this position?
I was 95 percent decided before the election in November. After November, I knew I had to jump in and run for office. That was a more personal feeling that I needed to step up, and people needed to step up and run for office. We need to be more efficient than ever with our financial resources.
What is something that you focus on that voters may not know about you?
My focus on government transparency and making much more information available to the public. Our processes should be much more transparent, and we should be releasing information on what we’re spending on, as a city government. There’s a lot of hope in my message. There’s hope for real change in Philadelphia politics. I want to be that change.