Longtime Register of Wills Ron Donatucci is being challenged by two Democrats in Tuesday’s primary as he seeks an 11th term.
Retired Deputy Sheriff Jacque Whaumbush and former Deputy City Commissioner Tracey L. Gordon are attempting to unseat Donatucci, who has been in office since 1980.
The office, which has a $4 million annual budget and about 70 employees, is charged with receiving wills for probate; maintaining wills and estate records; collecting inheritance taxes; and issuing marriage licenses. The race has been one of the least talked about in this campaign season, though it has had some drama.
Whaumbush and Gordon, both of whom have run for other offices multiple times, have had some hiccups in their campaigns. And Donatucci has faced some controversies in recent years.
After a state auditor general investigation found cash was stolen from the marriage license bureau, Donatucci banned cash payments. Recent Inquirer stories on stolen homes showed that people filed forged wills and notary signatures with the office. (Donatucci said he’s implemented new policies to verify authenticity.)
Whaumbush and Gordon said those two examples show that the office is in need of reform.
Whaumbush said he wants to hold frequent seminars for the public on the importance of making a will, something Donatucci says he already does. Whaumbush also wants to eliminate filing fees for first responders and lower them for seniors and low-income residents. (Donatucci said fees are set by the state.)
Gordon, a consultant for the Woodland, Chester and Elmwood Avenue business corridors, said she, too, wants to increase civic engagement.
In addition to the political criticism, Donatucci was hit with a lawsuit earlier this year from the fiance of his deceased son, Michael, alleging that Donatucci abused his position in the handling of his son’s estate.
Donatucci, 71, denied the allegations but said he couldn’t comment on the suit, other than to say: “I can assure you in my 38 years [as register of wills], no one has ever accused me of doing anything improper with wills. I was not going to start with the death of my son.”
Donatucci said that following the 2016 suicide of his son, he considered making this his last term. But, he said, his staff asked him to stay.
“There are a lot of things I would like to address,” he said, putting at the top of his list the restoration of historical records. “I had tragedy in my life. I just want to keep busy and continue serving people in Philadelphia.”
He in turn criticized the other candidates for various campaign flubs, including Whaumbush’s lawn signs that said he is running for “Registered of Wills.” Whaumbush blamed the vendor and said he was fixing the error.
Gordon, 57, previously worked as the deputy to City Commissioner Stephanie Singer and was fired in 2014 after the Ethics Board impounded her office computer and found that she had engaged in prohibited political activity. She called the firing a “political hit job” and denied the charges.
In February, Gordon registered a political action committee, Friends of Tracey L. Gordon. However, she has yet to file any campaign finance reports detailing how much money she is raising and from whom. She has missed two filing deadlines.
“We are not required to file. We are a state office,” Gordon said, referring a reporter to the Ethics Board.
The board requires filing only for contributions to other candidates for city office. But Kevin Kelly, the city’s acting elections supervisor, said register of wills candidates file their petitions with the Philadelphia Board of Elections, and must file their campaign finance reports there too.
Gordon later said she would file a report showing $2,000 in contributions on Monday.
Whaumbush, 61, was the chief deputy for Sheriff John Green. He unsuccessfully ran twice for the top job.
In 2011, he was fined by the Ethics Board for not filing campaign finance reports on time.
Eight years later, Whaumbush’s campaign has not filed two required reports to the Board of Elections on money raised and spent in the first four months of the year. He also has not yet registered his political action committee.