City Controller Alan Butkovitz is predicting the “lowest turnout in history” when the election polls open on May 21.
Butkovitz, a Democrat, is seeking a third four-year term. He’s opposed in the primary by Brett Mandel and Mark Zecca. Terry Tracy is unopposed on the Republican side.
The incumbent has the near-unanimous support of ward leaders, and their committee people will likely be handing out sample ballots with his name on them. He also expects to do well among voters 55 and older.
“We have the strongest support among the most frequent voters,” he said.
Butkovitz, 61, is a lawyer who served as a state representative from 1991 to 2005, when he was elected controller.
The controller is a resident of Unruh Avenue in Castor Gardens, and is Democratic leader of the 54th Ward. He graduated from Temple University and its law school. He and his wife, Theresa, have two adult children, Rachel and Eddie, both of whom are lawyers, and an infant grandson, Benjamin Gryphon.
Four years ago, Butkovitz took 42 percent of the vote to beat John Braxton and Mandel, who received 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
In that race, Butkovitz swept the 14 Northeast wards 58 percent to 27 percent over Mandel, a Rhawnhurst native. An Overbrook High School graduate, Butkovitz has lived in the Northeast for 36 years.
“The Northeast is my biggest base of support. The vote four years ago hit it out of the park for me,” he said.
The incumbent also did well in South Philadelphia, Roxborough and the river wards, but not so well in Center City and University City.
While Braxton won the black vote, Butkovitz took about one-third and is hoping for a lot bigger percentage this time.
“We are very, very strong in the black community,” he said.
In this race, Butkovitz and Mandel have raised similar amounts of money, with Zecca trailing.
Only 80,000 or so Democrats are expected to come to the polls, and Butkovitz declined to reveal his strategy for reaching those likely voters.
Northeast voters will get a chance to see the candidates on May 16, when the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce hosts a forum at Wesley Enhanced Living-Pennypack.
Butkovitz describes himself as an “independent watchdog” who has been “in the trenches” on key city issues. He dismisses his two primary opponents.
“Neither one of them is prepared for the office,” he said.
Butkovitz saves his biggest criticism for Mandel, labeling him a “right-wing ideologue” for his focus on business-tax reductions, likening it to a “Reaganomic policy.”
Mandel is “tone deaf” on the city’s new Actual Value Initiative, said Butkovitz, who opposes AVI because he believes it will hurt the middle class by resulting in higher property taxes.
The controller believes there is a very large error rate in the AVI data, and hopes the state legislature and City Council can somehow find a way to halt implementation.
“We are the only people to challenge the assumptions for this big property assessment,” he said.
On other issues, Butkovitz said his office’s investigation of financial irregularities and other problems at several charter schools has led to a federal indictment of administrators of one of the schools.
The controller has long criticized the School District of Philadelphia’s management. He has urged the city to operate more efficiently and realize savings by doing everything from improving tax collections to selling the health center building at Broad and Lombard streets and moving to a location where the real estate market is much cheaper.
Butkovitz said an audit of the sheriff’s office showed such mismanagement in the real estate division that he took a drastic step.
“We referred it to the U.S. Attorney,” he said.
Mandel and Zecca are campaigning on a pledge to investigate every city agency every year. Butkovitz insists his office has been aggressive and creative in completing thorough performance audits.
“I have to be a manager with a real budget, and the priority is to get the biggest bang for the buck,” he said.
If Butkovitz is re-elected, he will be in the mix for the 2015 mayoral race. He’d have to resign as controller to enter the race.
“It’s so speculative,” he said of a potential run. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org