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Controller hopefuls pile on Butkovitz

The challengers for city controller go after incumbent Alan Butkovitz in the campaign's first debate

The four candidates for city controller traded punches and counter-punches for 90 minutes Thursday night in their first formal debate. Democratic challengers Brett Mandel and Mark Zecca tried to paint incumbent  Alan Butkovitz as a compliant tool of the city's Democratic establishment, Butkovitz defended his record over the past eight years and the Republican candidate, retailing executive Terry Tracy, sold himself as a bright, articulate alternative to the party that's run the city for the past 60 years.

Some details:

--On the Nutter administration's new real estate assessments, known as AVI, Mandel attacked Butkovitz for "running around the city, trying to scare people about the reassessment process." Butkovitz said his criticism has been justified. "The evidence that has been coming in, the new numbers are probably more inaccurate than the numbers that existed prior to the reassessment, " he said, without citing the source of his analysis.  Both Tracy and Zecca criticized the administration's roll-out of the new assessment figures, saying there should be more transparency in how the city came up with the numbers.

--Zecca and Mandel pummeled Butkovitz for not blowing the whistle on Carl Greene, former executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, who managed to settle sexual-harassment claims against himself without the knowledge of PHA board members, two of them appointed by Butkovitz himself. The controller offered no real defense to charges that he and his appointed board members had been "asleep at the switch," but claimed that once he found out about Green's transgressions, he was the first to push for Green's immediate firing.   Tracy suggested that if the city's two watchdogs – the controller and the district attorney – weren't doing their jobs, the city should abolish the agencies and turn the money over to entities that need it, like the Philadelphia School District.

The most volatile exchange was between Butkovitz and Mandel, an aide to former controller Jonathan Saidel now making his second effort to unseat the incumbent.  Seated next to each other on a platform at WHYY, where the debate was held, Mandel ran through a list of various city agencies under federal investigation and suggested the FBI might be known as "Friends of Butkovitz Interrogated." Butkovitz accused Mandel of spreading "snarky smear stuff" and complained that his opponents had a tendency to make up facts.  "I know what the facts are," he declared. "I have fought in every context for honest government in Philadelphia."

Sponsors included WHYY, the Committee of Seventy and Young Involved Philadelphia.

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