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It’s official: Alan Butkovitz is running for mayor of Philadelphia

Butkovitz said Mayor Kenney "has given the back of his hand to poor people" and "managed to antagonize businesses."

Alan Butkovitz, the former city controller of Philadelphia, will announce Thursday that he is running for mayor.
Alan Butkovitz, the former city controller of Philadelphia, will announce Thursday that he is running for mayor.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Democrat Alan Butkovitz has toyed with the idea of running for mayor for years.

On Thursday morning, he'll finally make it official: At the Courtyard by Marriott across the street from City Hall, the former city controller plans to announce that he'll challenge Mayor Kenney in 2019.

His campaign will attack Kenney over the city's "homicide crisis," high poverty rate, and controversial soda tax, Butkovitz said.

"While he has given the back of his hand to poor people in this city, he's also managed to antagonize businesses whose investment we need in order to create jobs for our local economy," he said.

Butkovitz also vowed to end stop-and-frisk if elected.

"Every minority I talked to has a horror story about being stopped, being pulled out of a car, and treated like a criminal," he said. "We need an alliance between communities and the police to help provide public safety."

Kenney has argued that overall violent crime has dropped on his watch, although the number of homicides has risen over the last two years. He's also touted expanding pre-K, reducing the prison population, and curtailing the Police Department's use of pedestrian stops.

"Philadelphians want a progressive leader who will stand up to the rich and powerful — not a corporate Democrat running to help billionaire soda CEOs," said Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the Kenney campaign.

Butkovitz's campaign launch comes days after Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced corruption charges against a former municipal employee stemming from an investigation by Butkovitz. Law enforcement officials said Desiree Peterkin Bell, a top aide to former Mayor Michael Nutter, stole and misused taxpayer money. Nutter had called Butkovitz a "snake" when he examined the spending.

Butkovitz, city controller for 12 years, was ousted by a first-time candidate in the 2017 Democratic primary. That upset hasn't made him think twice about running for higher office.

"The mayoralty is different than the city controller's race," he said, adding that if his political opponents "want to fight the last war, I'm delighted, because I'm fighting the next one."

Political observers likely will see Butkovitz's campaign as a long-shot bid for several reasons. Since voters approved the City Charter almost 70 years ago, no incumbent mayor who has run for reelection has lost.

Butkovitz, 66, also had just $18,600 on hand when he filed a campaign finance report for 2017. It typically takes millions of dollars to run a mayoral campaign.

Although he won't say it outright — and, as a candidate, he's barred from coordinating with any super PACs — it is clear that Butkovitz hopes for outside spending from the soda industry.

Butkovitz, who has promised to repeal the tax, said beverage-bottling mogul Harold Honickman and grocery store owner Jeff Brown are "among my leading supporters."

The soda industry is expected to weigh in on next year's Council elections, but it is unclear whether it will launch a super PAC in the mayor's race.

Even if it does, Butkovitz could face competition: Democratic State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, who also opposes the soda tax, said he is "seriously" thinking about running for mayor.

Butkovitz considered running for the city's top job in 2015 and began to put together a staff. But he ultimately decided against a mayoral campaign, largely because City Council President Darrell L. Clarke didn't make up his mind about campaigning for the position until relatively late in the electoral cycle.

Before Butkovitz left office last year, he telegraphed that he was eyeing a 2019 campaign. He formerly served as a state representative, and has been a Democratic ward leader for 25 years.