The No-Bullshit Guide to the 2017 Philadelphia Primary

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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[1] 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[2] 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 …

The case against Deni …

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 …

The case against Khan …

Larry Krasner

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

The case for Krasner …

The case against Krasner …

Rich Negrin

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

The case for Negrin …

The case against Negrin …

John O’Neill

The basics: 35. Former city prosecutor.

The case for O’Neill …

The case against O’Neill …

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 …

The case against El-Shabazz …

Michael Untermeyer

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

The case for Untermeyer …

The case against Untermeyer …


Beth Grossman

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

The case for Grossman …

The case against Grossman …

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[83] 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[84], unsafe demolition sites[85], and rampant corruption[86] in the sheriff’s office. He is perhaps best known, though, for his never-ending brawl[87] 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[88] 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[89] 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[17], 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[90] 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[91]. Rhynhart also helped launch[92] 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[93] 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[94], 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[95] 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[96] and here[97], 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[98] Mark Cohen[99]), Vincent Melchiorre (you might remember him from the Philly Clout story[100] 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[101], Liberty City Democratic Club[102] and AFL-CIO[103]. The Committee of Seventy[104] and League of Women Voters[105] 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[106] has a guide to the races as well as a list of Democratic[107] and Republican[108] 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[109].

Follow @HollyOtterbein[110] on Twitter.

  1. accused:
  2. accompanying list of endorsements:
  3. District Attorney: #districtattorney
  4. City Controller: #citycontroller
  5. Judicial Races: #judicialraces
  6. Election Board Workers: #electionboard
  7. Ballot Questions: #ballotquestions
  8. here:
  9. co-founded a feminist bookstore:
  10. told reporters:
  11. says:
  12. here:
  13. rapist:
  14. facing corruption charges:
  15. lambasted:
  16. put it:
  17. Philadelphia Tribune:
  18. says:
  19. credited:
  20. here:
  21. helped:
  22. per the Inquirer:
  23. convinced:
  24. he argues:
  25. Shaun King:
  26. said:
  27. penned a letter:
  28. released a letter:
  29. funded:
  30. hasn’t denounced super PACs:
  31. took the more vague stance:
  32. calls:
  33. praised:
  34. here:
  35. saw:
  36. more than a few ethics problems:
  37. argues:
  38. Philadelphia Inquirer:
  39. says:
  40. was able to pass the soda tax:
  41. watered down his pledge:
  42. told Al Dia:
  43. calls:
  44. told Philadelphia magazine:
  45. here:
  46. backed by Building a Better Pennsylvania:
  47. promises:
  48. eight building trades would have backed O’Neill:
  49. punted the case:
  50. probing:
  51. reportedly examining:
  52. didn’t denounce:
  53. said:
  54. took the more vague position:
  55. here:
  56. was:
  57. says El-Shabazz:
  58. has been stopped and frisked:
  59. claims:
  60. taken to court:
  61. sued by Chestnut Hill’s Springside School:
  62. says El-Shabazz:
  63. writes the news site:
  64. called the reporter “racist.”:
  65. served:
  66. criticized by progressives:
  67. here.:
  68. You can take a look at them here:
  69. he was a Democrat:
  70. 2009 district attorney:
  71. 2011 City Council elections:
  72. he told
  73. poured:
  74. But the spot was pretty icky:
  75. here:
  76. she says:
  77. argues:
  78. cases:
  79. gained class-action status:
  80. saying:
  81. says:
  82. refuses:
  83. poll:
  84. scandalous Mayor’s Fund:
  85. unsafe demolition sites:
  86. rampant corruption:
  87. never-ending brawl:
  88. argues:
  89. makes:
  90. says:
  91. went up:
  92. helped launch:
  93. lack of diversity:
  94. Philadelphia Inquirer:
  95. says:
  96. here:
  97. here:
  98. that:
  99. Mark Cohen:
  100. the Philly Clout story:
  101. Philadelphia Tribune:
  102. Liberty City Democratic Club:
  103. AFL-CIO:
  104. Committee of Seventy:
  105. League of Women Voters:
  106. Committee of Seventy:
  107. Democratic:
  108. Republican:
  109. here:
  110. @HollyOtterbein:

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