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This was always scheduled to be a big year for municipal elections in Philadelphia. But city controller wasn’t initially one of them. 

Considered the independent fiscal watchdog for city government, the city controller is typically elected two years after the mayor and City Council. Rebecca Rhynhart’s resignation to run for mayor, however, triggered a special election.

The Office of the City Controller is in charge of auditing city departments and the School District of Philadelphia, investigating allegations of fraud within city agencies or their contractors, and figuring out if the city’s five-year plan is reasonable. The controller also sits on several boards, like the Board of Pensions and the Sinking Fund Commission.

After both a primary and general election, the winner will serve out the rest of Rhynhart’s term, set to end in early 2026.

The two most recent entrants in the race have worked in the Controller’s Office before.

One is Christy Brady, who replaced Rhynhart last fall after serving as her deputy. She resigned from her position on Feb. 2, a few weeks after a judge ruled she couldn’t run without stepping down — and shortly after the Philly Democrats’ policy committee recommended her for endorsement.

The other is John Thomas, a former deputy controller who worked in the office for 12 years. He has yet to make a public announcement, but did confirm to Billy Penn his intent to run.

Other Democratic candidates in the race are enterprise risk management professional Karen Javaruski and activist and former congressional candidate Alexandra Hunt. Republican Aaron Bashir, an entrepreneur and former accountant who ran for Congress last year, has also filed a form of intent to run with the Board of Ethics.

A couple of candidates have dropped out: Jack Inacker, a military veteran and business owner, dropped out of the race on Feb. 1 and endorsed Brady. Gregg Kravitz, a real estate agent who first attempted a City Council run then pivoted to controller, ended his campaign on Feb. 17.

Here’s a rundown of the current contenders, why they’re running, and how they view the role of controller.

Christy Brady

Christy Brady, former acting city controller (Courtesy Christy Brady)

Who she is

Brady, a certified public accountant, was the deputy city controller and had almost three decades of experience working in the office before Mayor Jim Kenney appointed her to the acting position in November. She started out as an auditor trainee and eventually became the city’s first woman deputy controller of audit. Her work included overseeing all financial audits of the city, some of which were recognized by the National Association of Government Auditors, according to a press release from the Controller’s Office at the time of her resignation.

Brady started off her campaign with a spate of endorsements, including the Philadelphia Democratic Party, which signaled its intent to endorse her before she even resigned as acting controller. She also has the support of several unions.

Why she’s running

Brady pointed to the city’s “many challenges,” including the crime rate, drug epidemic, and children falling behind in schools.

“We also have issues with the city’s enforcement of building code violations,” she said, “and developers misclassifying workers as independent contractors which results in millions of dollars in unpaid license and permit fees as well as lost payroll and city wage taxes related to these unsafe building practices.”

Approach to the role

Brady described the role of the office as promoting “honest, effective, and fully accountable city government” by providing “objective information” on the city’s finances, use of public resources, and opportunities of improvement.

“I want to lead audits, financial analysis, and investigations that can improve the safety of our neighborhoods and the education of our children while having a positive economic impact on the citizens and city finances,” Brady said.

Why her?

Brady touted her 28 years of experience in the controller’s office — particularly her three months as acting controller, when she managed every division of the office and served on the city Board of Pensions, Sinking Fund Commission, and Bond Committee. She also pointed specifically to her experience as a CPA as differentiating her from the rest of the field.

Alexandra Hunt

Alexandra Hunt (Hunt campaign)

Who she is

You might recognize Hunt’s name from last May’s primary, when she ran against U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans in the 3rd Congressional District. An alum of Temple’s College of Public Health, Hunt has worked as a public health professional/clinical data manager, girls’ soccer coach, and stripper. She was also a frontline volunteer at testing sites during the pandemic, according to her website, as well as an advocate for housing access and criminal justice reform.

In the 3rd District race last year, she positioned herself as a more progressive alternative to Evans, pushing for policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. She also caught national media attention for being open about her past work as an adult entertainment dancer — and her responses that leaned into the criticism and hate she got for it.

Why she’s running

Hunt said she decided to run out of a desire to find “creative solutions” to addressing Philly’s interconnecting social issues — like poverty, health, and education — using “evidence-based approaches.”

“The pandemic made systemic issues in our social fabric clear, and transformative solutions like a public bank and increasing funding for public health infrastructure and education are on the ballot this year — and something the city controller can directly impact,” she told Billy Penn.

Approach to the role

Hunt told Billy Penn she’s “running to be a controller for the people.”

“As a public servant, the controller has a responsibility to identify and work to solve problems that harm people in Philadelphia, which means advocating for policy changes and improvements,” Hunt said. “Budgets reflect values.”

On her campaign website, Hunt gives an indication of the values that she’d promote from the Controller’s Office: she says she’d vet the efficacy of publicly-funded violence prevention programs, push for the city to divest from fossil fuels, “fully investigate charter school finances,” and create internal checks and balances.

Why her?

Hunt pointed to her background in data science, her activism on behalf of marginalized communities, and her experience “facing an empty bank account” — she paid her way through college and two masters degrees, she said — as qualifiers.

Hunt said her campaign is grassroot-funded and doesn’t take corporate money, meaning she’s able to stay “accountable to the people.”

→ Campaign site is here

Karen Javaruski

Karen Javaruski (Facebook)

Who she is

Javaruski currently works as a credit risk governance officer at Citi and has over two decades of experience in private sector auditing and risk management working at companies like Wells Fargo and Cenlar FSB.

She’s also active in local and state politics, serving as a member of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee and as a treasurer and committeeperson in the 31st Ward, per her LinkedIn.

Why she’s running

Javaruski citied a desire to use her decades of experience in auditing, risk management, and business problem-solving to address the city’s “moment of crisis.”

“Violence, education and economic opportunities need to be our primary focus,” Javaruski said. “Philadelphia’s city controller is positioned to assess both issues and solutions in a unique, quantifiable, and independent way — for the good of all who live and work here.”

Approach to the role

Javaruski said the Controller’s Office should create output and make recommendations that  “directly correlate with the legislative initiatives of our mayor and city council, as well as align to the city budget items needed to address issues.”

She said she’s committed to working with the incoming mayor and members of City Council to “effectively [meet] the overall goals and needs of our citizens.”

Why her?

Javaruski pointed to her private sector experience and the skills she’s gained from it. Working “within the largest pillars of financial services” requires protecting borrowers — both people and businesses — by spotting waste, fraud, and abuse of funds, she said.

“Every Philadelphian should expect our city’s controller to have the technical skills and tenacity of proven leadership to audit our city’s services and be a firm financial watchdog over our city,” Javaruski said.

→ Campaign site is here

John Thomas

Who he is

Thomas is a former Philadelphia deputy controller who worked in the office for over 12 years. His total experience in city and state government roles spans over two decades, he told Billy Penn: as a senior analyst for the Philadelphia Gas Commission, an audit manager for the Pa. Auditor General’s office, and a legislative assistant to former Councilmember Marian B. Tasco.

If elected, Thomas says he’d be the city’s first Black controller — a “milestone” he “would not take lightly,” he told Billy Penn.

Why he’s running

Thomas said he’s seeking the office because “qualifications, experience, and diversity are important factors in serving as the city’s chief financial watchdog.”

Approach to the role

Thomas’s focus as controller would be on “solutions,” he told Billy Penn. His plan is to monitor the city’s finances and perform audits, while also using the office “a think tank to impact city policy by exploring new ways to address existing problems.”

Working together with city departments, Thomas said he would aim to improve the delivery of city services by rooting out mismanagement and waste. He’d also be willing to “use the office as a bully-pulpit” to push for improvements if the need arises, he said.

“I believe it is vitally important to prioritize the needs of our neighborhoods and our citizens,” Thomas said. “The City Controller can have a dramatic impact by advocating for long disadvantaged sectors of our city — while also exposing waste, fraud, and mismanagement in city government.” 

Why him?

Thomas pointed to his laundry list of government and auditing experience, which he said spans 25 years — the “necessary qualifications and experience to expose and eliminate waste, fraud and mismanagement in city government.”

In his prior role in the controller’s office, Thomas said, he investigated the lack of minority participation in city contracts, as well as the conditions of Philadelphia schools, police stations, and rec centers, “providing a blueprint for Rebuild priorities.”

→ Thomas has not yet launched his campaign website.

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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...