Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart Easily Wins City Controller Election

She will be Philly’s first female controller.

Rebecca Rhynhart | Courtesy of Rhynhart’s campaign

It wasn’t even close: Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart defeated Republican Mike Tomlinson in Tuesday’s city controller election 82 percent to 18 percent, with 93 percent of precincts reporting.

Rhynhart is the first woman in the history of Philadelphia to win a controller’s race. When she takes office next year, the 43-year-old will also be one of the youngest elected officials in the city.

Rhynhart is an alumna of both local government and Wall Street: She was former Mayor Michael Nutter’s budget director as well as Mayor Jim Kenney’s chief administrative officer. Prior to that, she worked at Bear Stearns.

During the campaign, Rhynhart promised to make the controller’s office more transparent and save taxpayers million of dollars annually. She also vowed to collaborate with the Kenney administration instead of holding “gotcha press conferences.” Tomlinson called that premise “completely inappropriate”: “The controller needs to be the independent oversight.”

Even though she hasn’t spent a day in elective office yet, some political observers are already asking whether the barrier-breaker could be a top candidate for the mayoral race in 2023. Insiders are whispering about Rhynhart’s future in part because she unexpectedly defeated three-term, party-endorsed incumbent Alan Butkovitz in the May primary. It was the biggest political upset in the city at the time: Rhynhart’s own consultant had said earlier in the year that she had no better than a one-in-three chance of winning the Democratic nomination.

Despite the odds stacked against her in the primary, Rhynhart proved good at fundraising, won several unexpected endorsements, and put together an effective get-out-the-vote strategy. She also ran on a message that has resonated in recent years with voters across the political spectrum: Her ads painted her as a non-politician and financial expert, while calling Butkovitz a “political hack” who had “been running for office for 27 years.”

During the general election, Tomlinson turned the tables on Rhynhart. He said that she wasn’t the outsider she made herself out to be: “The establishment is controlling the controller,” she said. She maintained that she will be independent.

One of the reasons Rhynhart said she decided to run for office was because she was distraught by the election of President Donald Trump. “I had been thinking about it in the fall, but at that point I just … it just pushed me over the edge,” she remembers. “This is not okay. We have to stand up for government that works, and for the future of our country and our kids. And what better place to start than actually showing that our city government can work?”

Soon, we’ll find out whether she can stick to that promise.