When Brett Mandel ran for city controller in 2009, he said the campaign operated on hustle and moxie.
In that campaign, he took 28 percent of the vote to finish third in a three-way Democratic primary. Incumbent Alan Butkovitz prevailed with 42 percent, while John Braxton received 30 percent.
Mandel is back this year to challenge Butkovitz again, with Mark Zecca also in the race. Republican Terry Tracy is unopposed in the May 21 primary.
Mandel described his campaign as more professional, organized, funded and planned than four years ago.
“That’s the biggest difference,” he said during a recent interview at Tiffany Diner. “The campaign is professional in every way. We have a terrific plan in place.”
Mandel, 43, grew up on the 1600 block of Napfle St. in Rhawnhurst. He attended Rhawnhurst Elementary School, Wilson Middle School and Northeast High School (class of 1987).
Mandel graduated with a public policy degree from Hamilton College (N.Y.) and earned a master’s in governmental administration from Penn’s Fels School of Government.
Today, the married father of three lives on the 2300 block of Lombard St. in Fitler Square.
Sports are a passion of his. A weekend warrior, he’s written two books on baseball and serves as commissioner of a men’s baseball league. He’ll host a campaign fundraiser at the May 2 Phillies game.
A former director of the financial and policy analysis unit in the city controller’s office under Jonathan Saidel, he vows to audit every government agency to root out waste and corruption and use the savings to invest in public education, safety and clean streets.
As an example, he said it was “not acceptable” that the city spent $17,000 last year buying and servicing typewriters.
“We have to invest in the technology of this century,” he said.
The candidate’s experience also includes serving on the city Tax Reform Commission and starting the nonprofit Philadelphia Forward, which advocated lower business and wage taxes and enactment of ethics reforms. And he was executive director of the National Education Technology Funding Corporation, which helped local public school districts finance school construction and renovation.
On his first day in office, he said he would begin to post all city payments online so residents can see where their tax money is being spent.
In January, he unveiled a website that contained information on budgets for city departments.
“That’s the kind of information we need to make better choices and build a better Philadelphia,” he said.
A diner customer walking by his table wanted to know why he has a picture of a bulldog on his campaign literature.
“I will be your budget bulldog,” he told the woman.
Mandel, an 8th Ward committeeman who turns 44 on May 10, doesn’t have much support among the Democratic Party hierarchy. That belongs to the incumbent.
Still, he is at least on pace with Butkovitz when it comes to raising money.
As he greeted diners, he handed the adults a campaign brochure and the kids temporary tattoos.
Comments from diners included one about banning pigeon shooting, and another about elected officials enrolling in the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan and running for another term.
One woman complained that City Hall doesn’t know the Northeast exists. Another woman whose fiance is a fireman criticized Mayor Michael Nutter’s repeated appeals of Local 22’s arbitration contract. Mandel earned the vote of a man who’s a mutual friend of prominent developer and Oxford Circle native Carl Dranoff.
One man, an employee of the city Department of Licenses and Inspections, wasn’t too pleased to see “Democrat” on Mandel’s literature.
“I’m going to be watching over a lot of Democrats,” the candidate responded.
Nobody asked about the city’s new Actual Value Initiative, but Mandel believes it will be an overall benefit for Northeast residents who believe they are overtaxed and underserved. He recalls working at Philadelphia Forward and noticing that a house on Holme Avenue that sold for $88,000 had higher property taxes than a home on Saint Albans Street in Southwest Center City that sold for $480,000.
“We have to fix this problem in real estate taxation,” he said.
In general on the campaign trail, Mandel said he talks with voters about issues such as improving schools, reducing crime, controlling taxes and making government more transparent.
Four years ago, Mandel lost the Northeast’s 14 wards to Butkovitz by a count of 58 percent to 27 percent. Mandel also has to improve his performance in the river wards, South Philadelphia and Roxborough. He did well in Center City and University City. The black vote, which went largely to Braxton in 2009, is up for grabs, though Butkovitz took one-third of it four years ago.
Mandel believes he is giving voters a message they want to hear.
“They’re excited about the things I’m talking about,” he said. “We’re connecting one-on-one with voters across the city.”
The Home Rule Charter requires an audit of every city agency every year.
In promising to do that, Mandel recalled a mid-1990s case where Saidel’s office audited Veterans Stadium and found that a worker allegedly sold more than $34,000 in toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
Mandel also pointed to last November’s federal indictment of a water department mailroom clerk, who allegedly ordered and sold printer ink and toner cartridges over a six-year period, costing the city $1.3 million.
“A routine audit should have caught this,” he said.
Mandel believes that Butkovitz is positioning himself to run for mayor in 2015. He promises to serve a full four-year term.
“Alan will not make that promise,” he said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org