Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz handily won the Democratic nomination for a third term Tuesday, defeating two challengers who claimed he has been too close to the Democratic establishment and ineffective as the city's fiscal watchdog.
With voter turnout reported light citywide and more than nine-tenths of the city's voting divisions reporting, Butkovitz had a lead of nearly 2-1 over Brett Mandel, a civic activist who worked under former Controller Jonathan Saidel. A distant third was Mark Zecca, a former lawyer for the city Law Department.
Butkovitz, 61, will face the unopposed Republican candidate, Terry Tracy, 30, a marketing executive with a clothing chain, in the November general election.
Tracy said he hoped to spend the fall campaign talking about "the big issues facing the city - the high rates of poverty, the sorry condition of public education, and economic growth - and how the Controller's Office might move the needle on them."
The Democrats' 6-1 edge in Philadelphia voter registration makes Butkovitz an overwhelming favorite in the fall. He is considering a 2015 mayoral campaign that would force him to resign barely a year into a new term.
"I think people believed we have been an independent voice, and we've compiled a substantial record with our investigations of the Sheriff's Office, the charter schools, and other agencies," Butkovitz said Tuesday night. "I think there was also some element of a protest vote against AVI."
He was referring to the Actual Value Initiative, the city's controversial real estate reassessments.
Mandel, 44, who also ran against Butkovitz four years ago, said he was disappointed with the turnout. "With so few people coming out, it was hard for us to find our votes," he said. "We needed more voters everywhere."
The Democrats' primary campaign focused on two immediate issues facing the city: AVI, which Butkovitz began criticizing long before the new assessment figures were announced, and the looming financial disaster at the Philadelphia School District.
Both challengers alleged that Butkovitz had failed to call adequate attention to the school system's deteriorating finances, though Butkovitz has been fighting with the district over its financial records and accounting practices since his first months in office.
"On Alan Butkovitz's watch, the Philadelphia School District ran a $300 million budget deficit," said one of Mandel's mailers. "Now 24 public schools are closing."
Butkovitz said his rivals were just trying to mislead voters.
Mandel supported broad changes in the city's real estate taxes as a member of a city commission 10 years ago, and accused Butkovitz of "fearmongering" on the issue.
In a last-week volley of over-the-top voter mailings, Butkovitz alleged that "Brett Mandel raised your property taxes" and Mandel responded with "Alan Butkovitz is lying about taxes."
Describing himself as a "budget bulldog," Mandel called for more transparency in city spending and created a website where voters could look up city payments and expenditures by department.
Zecca tried to market himself as an alternative to both his opponents, seizing on reports of a private meeting last year at which Mandel and Butkovitz discussed ways to avoid a primary battle. "We need to elect a controller who was not in that meeting," Zecca said.