Rebecca Rhynhart, who just resigned as city controller, announces her run for Philadelphia mayor

Rebecca Rhynhart this morning resigned from her position as city controller and announced her long-expected run for mayor.

She’s the fourth Democrat to declare candidacy in next year’s citywide contest. Made Tuesday morning at Nichols Park in West Philly, Rhynhart’s announcement that she would run made her the first non-city councilmember to formally throw her hat into the ring of the 2023 race.

First elected as controller in 2017 without the local Democratic Party’s support in the primary, Rhynhart spent almost a decade working in Philly city government before that — most of it in former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, plus one year as part of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration.

“My power as city controller is limited,” Rhynhart wrote in her resignation statement. “I can identify problems with how government is operating and make recommendations to improve those operations. As controller, I cannot force the administration to implement recommendations that will move our city forward.”

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What else does she bring to the table, and what are her priorities as she seeks Philly’s top city office? Here’s what to know as Rhynhart seeks to make a pivot from auditor to executive.

From private sector banking to government budgets

Though 48-year-old Rhynhart has positioned herself for a mayoral run in recent years, her career hasn’t always pointed toward politics.

She was born in Madison, Wisconsin, moved to Abington at age 6, and attended college at Middlebury College in Vermont, where she studied English and environmental studies. Rhynhart worked in the private sector post-college — first as a textbook salesperson, then for financial services company Fitch Ratings and investment banking company Bear Stearns after receiving a masters of public administration from Columbia University.

She left her job at Bear Stearns — which involved working with city governments across the country — to become Philadelphia’s city treasurer in 2008. Two years later, she became city budget director under Mayor Nutter, who told the Inquirer at the time that Rhynhart “was the only person [he] thought about” for the position.

Rhynhart was in 2016 named Philadelphia’s chief administrative officer, the person in charge of trying to make city administration and operations work more efficiently. She held that position under Kenney for a year before launching her bid for City Controller.

Julia Bright (left) celebrates while her mother, Rebecca Rhynhart (center), is sworn in as Philadelphia city controller in 2018 Credit: Emma Lee / WHYY

Rhynhart campaigned on bringing modernization and efficiency to the controller’s office, and more transparency to city government — vowing to launch audits into agencies like the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Rhynhart ultimately pulled out a win in the May 2017 primary against three-term incumbent Alan Butkovitz, who had the backing of the local Democratic party.

Making the controller a more active role

As city controller, Rhynhart paints herself as a pragmatist who values “data and thoughtful analysis” and someone, she said, who takes on “the political status quo that has too often failed our residents.”

In a recent interview with Montco Today, Rhynhart said Philadelphia’s “significant challenges” are one reason she’s been eyeing a mayoral run — but emphasized those challenges are ultimately “solvable.”

During her tenure, the Office of the City Controller has conducted audits of the city’s sexual harassment policies, Philly’s financial management, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Sheriff’s Office. Her office has also published public-facing policy analysis and data releases on the city budget, gun violence, trash pickup performance, and the revenue from the city’s beverage tax.

Rhynhart’s mayoral candidacy announcement comes the week after she released a critical report on the PPD’s crime-fighting strategies and staffing issues, which found slower 911 response times in communities of color, a dearth of patrol officers, and a lack of evaluation around Operation Pinpoint, the Police Department’s main strategic plan for addressing crime.

Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart with other elected officials in July 2021, demanding a stronger response to the city’s gun violence epidemic Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Rhynhart has had a rocky relationship with the mayor in her time as controller, and she’s publicly disagreed with the Kenney administration’s approach to combating gun violence.

Her criticism includes the lack of evaluation around the city’s existing anti-violence efforts, and she has called for what she’s billed as “pragmatic, data-driven” solutions, like intervention programs, neighborhood investment, and a crackdown on illegal gun trafficking.

Now, she’s making the issue a central focus of her mayoral campaign.

“Our families are reeling, and our city is becoming traumatized from this violence,” Rhynhart said at her campaign announcement. “And it’s not okay. As a mom in this city, I say enough. We have to stop this, and we can.”

Fundraising status

Per public records, Rhynhart’s campaign committee started this calendar year with nearly $769,000 in cash on hand. That’s the most of any of the mayoral candidates who’ve resigned their offices to run for the role so far.

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Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...