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Rage against the machine — NewsWorks

Rebecca Rhynhart is well-known to City Hall insiders, where she served nine years as city treasurer, budget director, and in a new post called chief administrative officer. Now she’s given that up to run for office against a three-term incumbent.


Rhynhart, 42, is a candidate for city controller, the city’s elected financial watchdog in the May 16 Democratic primary.

She said she’d been thinking about running for a while. Then Donald Trump won the White House.

“After he won, I really felt I have to do this,” Rhynhart said in an interview. “I’ve never run for office, but I really feel that I can help the city. We need to make better financial decisions, and I really think that millions of dollars can be saved.”

Rhynhart, who said her financial experience make her the best-qualified candidate for controller, spent seven years working in municipal finance on Wall Street — first for a bond rating agency, then for Bear Stearns.

She decided she wanted to help a local government, and took a job as Philadelphia city treasurer under Mayor Michael Nutter. It was a homecoming of sorts for the woman who grew up in Abington.

Millions to save?

As a proactive city controller, Rhynhart said she’s sure she can save taxpayers at least $10 million.

Lots of people say they’ll root out waste and corruption. Rhynhart said she’s done it, pointing to an innovation she pushed in the city’s competitive-bidding process, called “reverse auction” bidding — a kind of public procurement version of e-Bay.

“It’s all electronic,” Rhynhart said. “Bidder A will say, ‘I’ll sell it to you for X price,’ and bidder B will say, ‘I’ll sell it to you for less,’ and there’s actually transparency in those prices — and it drives the prices down.”

Who can you trust?

Rhynhart’s other selling point is independence. She said she’s not a career politician like the incumbent, Alan Butkovitz, who spent 15 years in the state Legislature before winning the controller’s office in 2005.

“He’s a ward leader, he’s been in politics and in power since I was in high school actually,” Rhynhart said. “It matters because I think it prevents him from taking tough stances against those that are part of that party political establishment.”

Butkovitz said it’s his political clout that gives him the independence to audit and criticize office holders — almost all elected Democrats.

But Rhynhart said Butkovitz picks his targets with politics in mind, and she won’t.

It’s worth noting that the framers of the city charter made the city controller “an elected officer to make him independent of the officials whose expenditures he will audit,” according to the annotation in the charter.

Can she win?

Rhynhart got into the race in December and has raised a credible campaign fund — $223,000 as of March 27.

But she’s been remarkably quiet until recently. Her first news conference was Tuesday, announcing the endorsement of former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Apart from being a political newcomer trying…

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