Former state representative and city controller Alan Butkovitz is the first challenger to launch a bid to unseat Mayor Jim Kenney in May’s Democratic primary.
Butkovitz, 66, cast himself as an experienced problem solver committed to reducing homicides and crime, lowering the poverty rate, ending the police tactic of “stop-and-frisk,” creating jobs, and repealing the sweetened beverage tax.
“I’ve got a lot of expertise and experience in dealing with public policy and I’m somebody that gets things done,” Butkovitz said during a telephone interview Wednesday.
Butkovitz was expected to officially announce his candidacy around 11 a.m. Thursday at the Courtyard by Marriott Philadelphia Downtown.
Butkovitz said Kenney has failed to deliver on numerous promises he made during his first run for office: Police continue to use “stop-and-frisk,” the poverty rate has remained stuck at nearly 26 percent for a second consecutive year, and homicides were on track to slightly surpass last year’s total of 318.
“You don’t get coronated just for being an incumbent,” Butkovitz said. “People want to see solutions to urgent problems. I think Kenney has had a failed mayoralty. He’s made a lot of high-sounding promises and been just about non-existent on execution.”
When asked how he would differentiate himself from an Democratic incumbent, Butkovitz said it’s not about ideology.
“It’s a question about whether you keep your promises and whether it’s something you can do,” he said.
Butkovitz lives in the Chester Gardens neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia with his wife, Theresa; they have two grown children.
He served seven terms as a state representative in the 174th District, and three terms as city controller before losing the Democratic Primary in 2017 to first-time candidate Rebecca Rhynhart.
Since his loss to Rhynhart, Butkovitz said, the rules for running for office in Philadelphia have changed. Candidates not only need more money to compete, but they have to respond to an electorate energized by President Donald Trump.
“These have become big money races where outside groups have a very decisive role in Philadelphia and the issues need to be presented dramatically,” he said. “You can’t have boring, insider-account kind of issues. This is a time of anti-Trump energy and you have to be able to paint in bright colors.”
Voters showed up in big numbers in the recent general election on Nov. 6. Turnout of registered voters eclipsed 51 percent for the first time in more than two decades.
But a paltry 17 percent of voters cast a ballot in the spring primary, while turnout in the 2015 primary was 27 percent.
Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said “Trump was the motivator” in driving Philadelphia voters to the polls on Nov. 6. While he expected turnout in May to dip to typical levels for a mayoral primary election, he added: “You’ve got to really wait to see what develops.”
Butkovitz also was expected on Thursday to announce plans for his first fundraiser.
Kenney already maintains a sizeable campaign war chest. As of September, Kenney’s campaign committee, Kenney for Philadelphia, had $435,926.48 on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance filing.
If the previous mayoral primary is any indication, the contest could draw in millions of dollars from both candidates and groups.
Four year ago, super PACs, which can raise unlimited funds, spent more than $10 million on the Democratic primary, while the six candidates in the primary raised more than $5.1 million, according to WHYY.