The No-Bullshit Guide to the 2017 Philadelphia Primary

From the district attorney race to judicial elections to ballot questions, here's everything you need to know for Tuesday's election.

Clockwise: District attorney candidates Larry Krasner, Joe Khan, Rich Negrin, Teresa Carr Deni, Jack O’Neill, Tariq El-Shabazz, Beth Grossman and Michael Untermeyer. | Photos courtesy of the campaigns

Do you loathe that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doubling down on the War on Drugs? Are you glad he’s finally restoring law and order to the country? Do you think the city spends too much money locking people up? Just enough? Too little? If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, then you should vote in this year’s district attorney race. The DA prosecutes crimes in Philadelphia, helping to determine whether justice is delivered to victims and how many people end up in prison every year. The choice in front of voters is as important as ever: Current District Attorney Seth Williams has been accused by the feds of seeking thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes and stealing from his own mom.

Voters will also choose Philadelphia’s next city controller, judges, and election board workers on Tuesday, as well as vote on two ballot questions.

Don’t worry if you haven’t paid close attention to these races — it’s why we created this election guide and an accompanying list of endorsements for each candidate in the district attorney race. It’s a ruthlessly honest, easy-to-understand explanation of the candidates’ pros and cons. Here are your choices.

The offices:

District Attorney

The basics: There are seven Democrats running in Tuesday’s election to succeed District Attorney Seth Williams. Republican Beth Grossman is unopposed in the GOP primary. Philadelphia’s district attorney is in charge of one of the biggest prosecutor’s offices in the nation, investigating and prosecuting crimes in the city. The winner of the general election may be Philly’s district attorney for decades: There are no term limits for the position, and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham served for almost 20 years.


Teresa Carr Deni

The basics: 69. Former Municipal Court judge for 21 years. Previously was a criminal defense attorney and worked for the City Solicitor’s Office, the Office of Housing and Community Development, and the Board of Revision of Taxes.

Photo courtesy of Teresa Carr Deni’s campaign

The case for Deni …

  • Compared to the rest of the DA candidates, she has a pretty moderate platform. Some of her positions are pretty progressive: She wants to “all but dismantle” the city’s civil forfeiture system, which enables the DA to seize some people’s assets even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime. She wants to cut back on the use of cash bail. She also promises to “take a more restorative approach” to small-time drug dealers, and divert drug addicts from the criminal justice system. But she has tough-on-crime planks in her platform, too: She believes the penalty for smoking marijuana outside should be raised, and that the names of police officers who shoot civilians should not be immediately released. She also would not stop seeking the death penalty, though she says she’d ask for it only in the “most heinous cases.” (Read our extended Q&A with Deni here.)
  • She has a good reputation among many of the city’s progressive lawyers. They say she’s independent-minded and shouldn’t be judged by her most notorious moment on the bench (see below).
  • She’s the only woman running in the Democratic primary and has a history of fighting for women’s rights. In the 1970s, Deni co-founded a feminist bookstore in Philadelphia called Alexandria Books. She was also active in the women’s movement. That past could help her shake up a DA’s office that many see as a good-ol’-boys club.
  • She’s one of only two candidates who have never been a prosecutor. The DA’s office has been mired in controversy under Seth Williams. Perhaps Deni is right when she argues that her lack of experience means she’d be able to create a brand-new culture there.

The case against Deni …

  • She once called the alleged gang rape of a prostitute a “theft of services.” In 2007, Deni dismissed sexual assault charges against a man who reportedly raped a prostitute with others at gunpoint. She told reporters at the time, “She consented and she didn’t get paid. I thought it was a robbery.” The case hit the national media, and women’s groups rebuked Deni. The case was later refiled, and the defendant pleaded guilty to rape charges. Today, she says she would probably make a different decision and has learned more about sex trafficking.
  • She has no experience prosecuting cases. How will she be able to lead one of the biggest prosecutor’s offices in the country?
  • She’s fairly moderate. With Jeff Sessions in the Attorney General’s office, is that what Philadelphia needs?
  • She got her start in the Democratic machine. She worked as the Democratic City Committee’s legal counsel, and says befriending ward leaders helped her win her a place on the bench. Is someone like that the right person to be the DA in city where numerous elected officials have ended up in handcuffs?

Joe Khan

The basics: 41. Attorney at Spector Gadon & Rosen, P.C. Former prosecutor for the District Attorney and U.S. Attorney.

The case for Khan …

  • He has a progressive agenda. Khan says he wants to revamp the civil forfeiture system, eliminate cash bail altogether, and stop prosecuting most low-level drug cases. He promises to spend more resources than Williams did on prosecuting child abuse. And he plans to create a task force aimed at reducing lead poisoning by using child endangerment laws and other statutes. On one major issue, he is not so progressive: He would not rule out asking for the death penalty. (Read our extended Q&A with Khan here.)
  • He spent a decade in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and six years in the District Attorney’s Office. Khan got his start in the DA’s family violence and sexual assault unit, where he prosecuted the so-called rapist and many other lesser-known alleged sexual predators. He also worked on the federal government’s political corruption cases in Allentown. That experience could help him clean up an office currently led by a man who is facing corruption charges and who was lambasted for not firing prosecutors who exchanged racist, pornographic emails.
  • He’s got an all-American backstory. As the Philadelphia Inquirer put it, “Khan’s father was a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan who came to this country and fell for an Irish Catholic native of the city. They married and moved to a Jewish neighborhood in the Northeast.” If elected DA, Khan promises to vigorously defend Philly’s “sanctuary city” status.
  • Even though he has a liberal platform, Khan is probably less likely to face a revolt in the DA’s office than, say, Larry Krasner. That’s partly because Khan has years of experience as a prosecutor, so assistant district attorneys see him as one of them.
  • He’s been endorsed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, the Philadelphia Tribune and Gold Star father Khizr Khan. Other supporters include the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women and former congresswoman Allyson Schwartz.

The case against Khan …

  • He cut his teeth in the very DA’s office that he wants to reform. Can you drain the swamp if you’re from the swamp?
  • He wouldn’t rule out seeking the death penalty. Khan says he would pursue the death penalty only in “extreme cases.”

Larry Krasner

The basics: 56. Criminal defense and civil rights attorney. Former public defender.

The case for Krasner …

  • He has what is seen by many as the most progressive agenda in the race. He promises never to seek the death penalty, never ask for cash bail for nonviolent offenders, and never seize someone’s assets if they are not convicted of a crime. He vows to beef up the city’s drug courts and expand opportunities for drug addicts to be diverted out of the criminal justice system. He also says he won’t bring cases that are based on illegal frisks and searches. Krasner has been credited with moving the entire field of Democratic district attorney candidates to the left. (Read our extended Q&A with Krasner here.)
  • He’s represented Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and activists at the 2000 Republican National Convention and 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. After hundreds of RNC protesters were arrested and charged — an incident that came to be known across the country as an attack on civil rights — Krasner helped get nearly all of them acquitted.
  • He’s brawled with the Fraternal Order of Police. Want a DA who will stand up to cops if necessary? Krasner has “sued law enforcement or the government more than 75 times on behalf of clients,” per the Inquirer. Krasner represented ex-Eagles player LeSean McCoy after he allegedly got into a fight with two undercover cops. Krasner convinced Seth Williams to stop calling a group of narcotics officers as witnesses after they were charged by the feds with corruption. (They were later acquitted.)
  • He’s one of only two candidates who have never been a prosecutor. Like Deni, he says that his lack of experience in the DA’s office is a good thing. All of the other candidates, he argues, worked as prosecutors under district attorneys who furthered the War on Drugs and contributed to “mass incarceration”: “These other candidates have been a part of the problem. They have done nothing to change the problem, but now all of a sudden in this race, when the popular view on criminal justice has shifted … they’re the biggest reformers you’ve ever seen.”
  • He’s put together a political alliance of diverse groups, much like Jim Kenney did in the 2015 mayoral race. Krasner has been endorsed by the powerbroker Marian Tasco, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Our Revolution, and Council members Cherelle Parker, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Helen Gym, among others. He’s also won the support of national figures like Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King and leftist actress Susan Sarandon.

The case against Krasner …

  • Krasner has zero experience as a prosecutor. If elected, Krasner would oversee one of the biggest prosecutor’s offices in the nation. Every year, there are hundreds of homicides in Philadelphia and even more rapes, assaults and other violent crimes. Would Krasner really be able to go from defending violent criminals to fighting them in court? Will he be soft on crime?
  • Some police officers and assistant district attorneys loathe him. Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby said it’s “hilarious” that Krasner is running for DA. A dozen former assistant district attorneys penned a letter urging voters not to cast a ballot for Krasner. (A group of sexual assault survivors released a letter criticizing the ADAs’ letter and “the way that our traumatic experiences are being used to demonize Larry Krasner without our consent.”) While it’s unclear whether these law enforcement officials are representative of the majority or a vocal few, it seems likely that there will be some kind of showdown with law enforcement if Krasner wins.
  • He’s extremely progressive. If you’re a moderate on criminal justice issues, Krasner probably isn’t your guy.
  • A PAC funded by George Soros, the billionaire and Democratic donor, is backing Krasner. While Krasner cannot coordinate with the political committee — meaning that he couldn’t make Soros’s money go away even if he wanted to — Krasner hasn’t denounced super PACs. “The reality is the conservatives and Republicans have been using super PACs for a very long time,” he said, “and progressives and liberals have to play the rules of the game as the game exists now.”

Rich Negrin

The basics: 50. Former managing director under Mayor Michael Nutter. Previously a city prosecutor and ethics board member.

The case for Negrin …

  • Negrin has a liberal platform, especially for someone endorsed by the police union. If elected, he says he’ll retool the civil forfeiture program and transform the cash bail system: “We’re criminalizing poverty, meaning that nonviolent offenders and drug offenders are spending hours and months in jail awaiting trial,” he says. Negrin promises to never seek the death penalty; at the beginning of the campaign, however, he took the more vague stance of supporting Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on capital punishment. Negrin also calls the city’s arbitration system, which is supported by the police union, “broken.” On some issues, Negrin is more of a moderate: For instance, he won’t say whether cash bail should be ended for nonviolent offenders and has praised stop-and-frisk in the past. (Read our Q&A with Negrin here.)
  • If elected, he would be the city’s first Latino DA. Negrin is a first-generation Cuban-American. Currently, Philadelphia Latinos are one of the most underrepresented minority groups in the city and state government.
  • Negrin understands firsthand the scourge of gun violence. At 13, he saw his own father gunned down in the street. He says that’s what drove him to become an assistant district attorney years ago. He also served as a board member of the anti-gun violence group CeaseFirePA.
  • He was a founding member of the city’s ethics board. In a DA’s office that has been led for the last seven years by Seth Williams, who has more than a few ethics problems, that experience could help him clean house.
  • He has both prosecutorial experience and managing experience in city government. Negrin argues that, in a DA’s office desperately in need of change, “this is no time for on-the-job training.” He worked as a city prosecutor for five years and as Mayor Michael Nutter’s managing director for six years. In his latter gig, he oversaw several departments, the city’s 311 system and the anti-violence program Philly Rising.
  • He’s been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, Philadelphia Inquirer, Guardian Civic League, National Black Police Officers Association and millennial PAC Philly Set Go, among others. Negrin says his credibility with police officers and other stakeholders makes him better able to achieve reform than his opponents. Being an insider does have its benefits sometimes: Mayor Jim Kenney was able to pass the soda tax in large part because of his relationships with City Council members and other leaders.

The case against Negrin …

  • Negrin has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. As a mayoral candidate, the FOP also backed Kenney, even though he promised to end stop-and-frisk. After winning the election, Kenney watered down his pledge and said he would only “reform” stop-and-frisk. Will Negrin flip-flop on similar issues? And if cops break the law or oppose his reforms, can Negrin be trusted to stand up to them after the FOP helped get him elected?
  • In the past, he’s said positive things about stop-and-frisk. In 2015, Negrin told Al Dia that “Latinos are safer today” because of stop-and-frisk. During the DA’s race, Negrin has stressed that he supports only constitutional frisks and searches.
  • Negrin faced criticism for his handling of Occupy Philly activists in 2011. As the city’s managing director, Negrin oversaw the protests at City Hall. Some denounced him because police arrested activists after they refused to leave. Negrin maintains that he did not order the arrests and calls his critics “extreme voices.”
  • He won’t say whether or not cash bail should be eliminated for nonviolent offenders. Negrin told Philadelphia magazine months ago, “It’s tough to make that final decision without talking to the experts.” Since then, a spokesman has said that he has “no problem” personally with ending cash bail for nonviolent offenders, but wants to first make sure that the city’s stakeholders who have been working on the issue are on board. Hasn’t he had time during the campaign to figure that out?
  • He has experience in the DA’s office. Will someone from the system truly reform the system?

John O’Neill

The basics: 35. Former city prosecutor.

The case for O’Neill …

  • He has a progressive agenda. O’Neill wants to “significantly” reform the civil asset forfeiture system, eliminate cash bail for nonviolent offenders, and beef up such diversionary programs as the city’s drug treatment courts. He also wants to expand the city’s crime-fighting Focused Deterrence program and ensure that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence have an assistant district attorney assigned to them from the moment they encounter law enforcement. When it comes to the death penalty, he is more moderate: He would not rule it out. (Read our extended Q&A with O’Neill here.)
  • He has 10 years of experience in the DA’s office. He might be young, but O’Neill has spent a decade prosecuting sexual assault and homicide cases as an assistant district attorney.
  • He’s the only millennial in the race. At 35, O’Neill would be one of the youngest elected officials in the city. Philadelphia has few millennials in office and an awfully thin bench for new leaders.
  • He’s been endorsed by eight building trades unions, the firefighters union, Congressman Brendan Boyle, City Councilman Bobby Henon, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, City Commissioner Lisa Deeley and state Rep. Ed Neilson, among others.
  • He’s a friend to labor. In addition to being endorsed by several unions and backed by Building a Better Pennsylvania, a super PAC tied to electricians union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, O’Neill promises to appoint a labor “liaison” if elected DA. “When you have situations, for example, when someone illegally classifies a job the wrong way so that they can rip off their workers … it only makes sense to have a DA’s Office that supports the law,” he says.

The case against O’Neill …

  • John Dougherty and his union have not directly endorsed O’Neill, but Doc’s fingerprints are all over the race. Local 98 helped finance the super PAC Building a Better Pennsylvania, and it’s highly, highly unlikely that eight building trades would have backed O’Neill without Dougherty’s consent. Does Philly really need another DA with ties to Doc? When Dougherty was accused of punching a non-union electrician, Seth Williams punted the case to the Attorney General’s office, saying his “long-standing professional relationship” with the labor leader forbid him from handling it. The FBI is probing Local 98’s payments to summer camps for Williams’s daughters. The feds are also reportedly examining Dougherty’s taxes, finances, and involvement in Kenney’s mayoral campaign. Local 98 supported Kenney via Building a Better Pennsylvania.
  • Building a Better Pennsylvania is now backing O’Neill. Like Krasner, O’Neill can’t coordinate with the political committee and therefore can’t force them to stop it from spending money. But O’Neill didn’t denounce the super PAC after it began airing pro-O’Neill ads, saying only, “I don’t know who they are.” This came less than two months after O’Neill said of super PACs, “I don’t think they should be involved.”
  • He wouldn’t rule out seeking the death penalty. Like Khan’s, this is a part of O’Neill’s platform that is less than progressive. O’Neill says he would ask for capital punishment only in “very extreme cases.”
  • He has experience in the DA’s office. How much change can an insider bring?

Tariq El-Shabazz

The basics: 53. Criminal defense attorney. Previously District Attorney Seth Williams’s number two and a city prosecutor.

Courtesy of Tariq El-Shabazz’s campaign

The case for El-Shabazz …

  • He has a progressive agenda. El-Shabazz wants to end cash bail for nonviolent offenders and promises never to seize assets from a person who has not been convicted of a crime. (He says he would “freeze” assets during court proceedings, however.) He also wants to make the probation and parole system more expansive, create day reporting centers, grow the city’s diversionary programs, and increase diversity in the DA’s office. He vows never to seek the death penalty; however, like Negrin, he took the more vague position at the start of his campaign of supporting Gov. Wolf’s moratorium on capital punishment. (Read our extended Q&A with El-Shabazz here.)
  • He’s been on both sides of the courtroom: He has experience as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. He was an assistant district attorney for six years and Seth Williams’s top deputy for seven months. He was also a founding partner of the firm El-Shabazz & Harris.
  • While in the DA’s office, he worked on the well-known Lex Street murder case. Prosecutors set four defendants free after deciding that they didn’t do the crime. Four others were charged. “[Because of] the questioning and the back-and-forth, we were able to … make the determination that these guys were innocent,” says El-Shabazz. “It showed me that the system actually works.”
  • He’s the only African-American running for district attorney and says he understands firsthand what it means to experience injustice at the hands of law enforcement officials. He has been stopped and frisked in the past.
  • He’s been endorsed by the Laborers District Council, Transport Workers Union Local 234, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

The case against El-Shabazz …

  • He has money problems. El-Shabazz currently has $137,187 of tax lien judgments filed against him in the city’s Common Pleas court. (His campaign claims that he paid off $74,000 of those debts, but that the payments aren’t reflected in the court’s record because the liens haven’t been fully satisfied.) His law firm was taken to court several times because it allegedly failed to pay rent. And in 2010, El-Shabazz was sued by Chestnut Hill’s Springside School because he did not pay more than $25,000 in tuition and other incidentals for his daughters. The DA manages a $52 million budget. Could El-Shabazz handle that given his messy financial past?
  • A petition for a protection-from-abuse order was once filed against El-Shabazz. It was later withdrawn. “Why it was filed, I can’t explain that,” says El-Shabazz. “Because it was withdrawn and sealed by the court, then there’s not much that I can comment on in terms of the substance. But the fact that it was withdrawn and sealed should be information that I think people can kind of gather what that was about.”
  • According to a City & State report, El-Shabazz did a poor job representing some defendants, in particular a man named Anthony Brown, who was convicted of homicide. “Two federal judges have agreed that El-Shabazz did fail to adequately represent Brown,” writes the news site. “A string of incarcerated men told similar stories: that El-Shabazz took their cases and their money, then seemed to vanish. Court records show that the defense attorney missed court dates and, in some cases, misstated facts to judges to excuse his absences.” After the article was published, El-Shabazz called the reporter “racist.”
  • He was a prosecutor and Seth Williams’s right-hand man. From September 2016 to February 2017, El-Shabazz served as the top deputy to Williams, who is now not only facing corruption charges, but also has been criticized by progressives for not revamping the DA’s office as substantially as promised in his campaign. If El-Shabazz couldn’t achieve major reform as number two in the DA’s office, could he really get acheive it as number one?

Michael Untermeyer

The basics: 66. Real estate developer. Former city and state prosecutor.

The case for Untermeyer …

  • He has a progressive platform. Untermeyer wants to end cash bail completely and replace it with a “points” system, which determines if a pretrial defendant should be released based on their likelihood of skipping trial, potential danger to the community and criminal record. He also promises to strengthen the unit that investigates possible wrongful convictions, expand the city’s diversionary programs, and revamp the civil forfeiture system by only taking forfeitures above a certain value. Some of his positions are more moderate: For instance, he would not rule out the death penalty and says it isn’t always necessary to secure a conviction before seizing someone’s assets. (Read our extended Q&A with Untermeyer here.)
  • He has years of experience as a prosecutor. He worked in the DA’s office for four years, where he prosecuted domestic violence cases. He was also in the Attorney General’s office for 11 years, where he had a position in the civil forfeiture unit.
  • He has some of the most detailed policy papers in the race. You can take a look at them here.
  • He’s been endorsed by the wards led by state Sen. Tony Williams and Sheriff Jewell Williams.

The case against Untermeyer …

  • He was a Republican in a past life. For decades, he was a Democrat. Then he ran as a Republican in the 2009 district attorney and 2011 City Council elections. He changed his party registration back to Democrat in 2014. When he was toying with the idea of running for DA last year, he told, “Only a Democrat can win this office.” That doesn’t sound opportunistic or anything.
  • He’s a self-funded millionaire. Does government really need more of those? Untermeyer has poured almost $1 million of his own money into the race. That triggered the city’s “millionaire’s provision,” which raises the limit on campaign contributions in the DA’s election.
  • During his 2011 campaign for City Council, he aired an ad that his opponents called racist and sexist. Untermeyer has since apologized for the advertisement and removed it from YouTube. But the spot was pretty icky.
  • He wouldn’t rule out seeking the death penalty. Like Khan and O’Neill, he says he would seek the death penalty only in the “most heinous” cases.


Beth Grossman

The basics: 49. Former city prosecutor and chief of staff at Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections department.

The case for Grossman …

  • She has a center-right platform. Grossman is a passionate defender of the city’s civil forfeiture program, arguing that it can and should be used to seize drug dealer’s homes and boost quality-of-life throughout the city. She supports cash bail. She believes in seeking the death penalty in “certain cases.” On other issues, she takes the same position as some of the Democrats in the race: She wants to divert drug addicts who are charged with simple possession into treatment programs and opposes charges for those found with small amounts of marijuana. For low-level drug dealers who have addiction issues, she says she would also consider requiring treatment instead of imprisonment. (Read our extended Q&A with Grossman here.)
  • She was a prosecutor for almost 20 years. She has served in every unit in the DA’s office. From 2007 to 2015, she led the city’s public nuisance task force, where she dealt with abandoned properties, dumping, nuisance bars and out-of-state landlords. She also was in charge of the city’s civil forfeiture program at that time. She says that seizing people’s assets enabled her to fight the opioid crisis and rid the city of drug houses. “A neighbor called to thank me for getting rid of a drug house next door to him. He told me that he could now sit on his porch again,” she says. “Enjoying the basic joys and comforts of one’s home without crime negatively affecting his or her safety and quality of life is something that everyone in Philadelphia should be able to do.”
  • She isn’t part of Philadelphia’s Democratic machine. She argues that a Democratic district attorney can’t ever truly take on City Hall, and that the Democratic Party’s monopoly on the city has allowed corruption to fester. If elected DA, she says she would focus on making the office more ethical.
  • She’s been endorsed by the millennial PAC Philly Set Go and the Philadelphia Black Republican Ward Leaders Caucus.

The case against Grossman …

  • She was in charge of the civil forfeiture system in Philadelphia. During her time as public nuisance task force chief, the city’s civil forfeiture program was lambasted nationally. Journalists have reported on cases in which parents and grandparents have had their homes seized because, unknown to them, their children were dealing drugs. Earlier this year, a lawsuit claiming that Philly’s civil forfeiture program is unconstitutional gained class-action status. The practice of civil forfeiture has been criticized by liberals and conservatives alike in recent years, with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas saying it “has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”
  • She was a Democrat in a past life. She says she switched her party registration to Republican in 2013 because she was tired of seeing local Democrat after local Democrat get tossed in jail. “I think we need a better political balance in the city because when it’s so one-sided, it creates an unhealthy imbalance and people tend to get into trouble.”
  • She refuses to say whether or not she voted for President Donald Trump. Declining to answer such questions is typical of politicians.
  • She worked in the DA’s office for decades and defends much of the status quo. If you want the next DA to dismantle cash bail or the civil forfeiture system, Grossman probably isn’t the right candidate for you.

City Controller

The basics: Rebecca Rhynhart is challenging incumbent Alan Butkovitz in the Democratic primary for city controller. Republican Mike Tomlinson is unopposed in the GOP primary. The city controller is the lead auditor of Philadelphia. Usually, this is what’s called a “committee person’s race”: Because so few people pay attention to it, it’s often decided by the Democratic machine. Rhynhart has put up a pretty good fight, though, and a poll commissioned by her campaign showed her closely trailing Butkovitz.


Alan Butkovitz

The basics: 65. Incumbent city controller for 11-plus years. Formerly a state representative in Northeast Philly.

The case for and against Butkovitz: Some of Butkovitz’s most well-known work includes his reports on the scandalous Mayor’s Fund, unsafe demolition sites, and rampant corruption in the sheriff’s office. He is perhaps best known, though, for his never-ending brawl with former Mayor Michael Nutter. If reelected, Butkovitz says his priority will be to keeping working as the city’s “watchdog.” Butkovitz is an unabashed part of the Democratic machine: He is a ward leader, and the Democratic City Committee is endorsing him. Rhynhart argues that Butkovitz is beholden to the party and often doesn’t investigate problems until they’ve already been covered by the press. He’s also been accused of being politically opportunistic, such as when he opposed Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative during the 2013 campaign. Butkovitz makes a passionate defense of his time in office, pointing out that he’s stood up to such machine Democrats as Sheriff John Green. Butkovitz has been endorsed by the Philadelphia Tribune, City Council President Darrell Clarke, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Building Trades Council, District Council 33, District Council 47 and Neighborhood Networks, among others.

Rebecca Rhynhart

The basics: 42. Former chief administrative officer under Mayor Jim Kenney and budget director under Mayor Michael Nutter. Previously worked at Bear Stearns.

The case for and against Rhynhart: If elected, Rhynhart would be the first female city controller in Philadelphia. She says her priorities include making the office more transparent and saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Rhynhart has plenty of financial experience: She was Nutter’s budget director for six years and oversaw several departments as Kenney’s chief administrative officer. During Rhynhart’s tenure, the city’s bond rating went up. Rhynhart also helped launch the city’s “reverse bidding” process and its paperless system for contracting services. Butkovitz has criticized Rhynhart for working on Wall Street and not doing more to fix the pension system and lack of diversity while she was in city government. Rhynhart has shot back that Butkovitz is blaming her for issues she had no control over or had little time to address. Rhynhart been endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity, former Gov. Ed Rendell, Laborers’ District Council and Millennials in Action, among others.


Mike Tomlinson

The basics: 60. Corporate accountant. Previously a high school teacher.

Mike Tomlinson | Courtesy of Tomlinson’s campaign

The case for and against Tomlinson: Tomlinson worked as a corporate accountant for many decades. He argues that he’s the only true outsider in the race: After all, Butkovitz is a party insider and Rhynhart is a government insider. Tomlinson says his top goals include strengthening the underfunded pension system and auditing the school district. As a Republican, Tomlinson would face an uphill battle in the general election.

Judicial Races

The basics: There are dozens of judges up for election on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, Court of Common Pleas, and Municipal Court. The Pennsylvania Bar Association and Philadelphia Bar Association extensively rated and interviewed the candidates here and here, respectively. The contenders who were not recommended by the Bar Associations are as follows: Bill Caye, Irene Clark, Deborah Cianfrani, Rania Major, Shanese Johnson, Mark Cohen (yes, that Mark Cohen), Vincent Melchiorre (you might remember him from the Philly Clout story questioning whether he actually lives in Philadelphia), Danyl Patterson, Terri Booker, Crystal Powell, Bill Rice, and Sherman Toppin.

Some media outlets and political groups have made endorsements in the judicial races, including the Philadelphia Tribune, Liberty City Democratic Club and AFL-CIO. The Committee of Seventy and League of Women Voters also have helpful guides to the candidates.

Election Board Workers

The basics: These are the workers stationed at each polling place Philadelphia. They oversee the city’s elections, enforcing voting rules, helping voters use the voting machines, and readying the polling place for Election Day. Specifically, a Judge of Elections and Inspector of Elections will be on the ballot. The Committee of Seventy has a guide to the races as well as a list of Democratic and Republican candidates.

Ballot Questions

The basics: Philadelphians will see two ballot questions when they enter the voting booth Tuesday. They are broken down into plain English here.

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