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August 17, 2016

Head-butting and name-calling: A history of Nutter vs. Butkovitz

Ex-mayor and city controller have long sparred over policies, reforms

On Tuesday, Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz held a press conference accusing former Mayor Michael Nutter's administration of potentially mishandling $380,000 from an account funded by proceeds from the Philadelphia Marathon. Butkovitz said several charges made to the account – a $45,000 trip to Italy, nearly $3,000 in airfare and $700 in Uber rides — were questionable.

Nutter didn't mince words in his response. He called Butkovitz a "liar, a snake and a hypocrite," and stood by his former aide, Desiree Peterkin-Bell, who the controller said may have mishandled the funds.

On its surface, this seems like a cut-and-dry case of alleged Philly corruption — or at least incompetence — and a fervent response from a former mayor whose legacy was one of transparency in a city known for its cronies.

But the relationship between Nutter and Butkovitz is a long and complicated one. As the city's chief financial watchdog who took office just two years before Nutter did in 2008, Butkovitz repeatedly went after the mayor and his policies, needling him on everything from unpaid utilities to his management of the city's fire department. Nutter frequently dismissed the controller's claims — not to mention the controller himself.

Here's a brief history of the many headaches Butkovitz has given Nutter over the course of their political careers:


The city placed a lien on Nutter's home in Wynnefield in 2013 because he owed Philadelphia Gas Works more than $500 in unpaid bills that racked up over several months. Nutter said he simply forgot to pay it, but Butkovitz took the opportunity to call Nutter's leadership into question. "If you're going to demand that other people pay their taxes and bills on time, you have to make sure you have your own paid," he said. "He has to lead by example."


That same year, Butkovitz released a report that said only 32 percent of the city's police surveillance cameras were working properly. He compared Philly to Baltimore, where he said 97 percent of cameras functioned correctly. Nutter was dismissive of the report and essentially called it bullspit. "The report has many inaccuracies," he told the Inquirer at the time, calling some of the numbers "flat-out incorrect."


In 2013, Nutter's office sued former Philadelphia Sheriff John D. Green, who had quit two years earlier, and others in his office over millions of dollars in unaccounted funds, actually acting off a 2011 investigation by Butkovitz. The next year, however, Butkovitz accused Nutter of failing to follow up on promised reforms to the Sheriff’s Office, claiming he didn't hold the office accountable to make necessary changes. Then-Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison questioned the report's findings, and in Nutter-like fashion, pondered the nature of Butkovitz's motivations.

Green, for his part, was eventually indicted by the feds.


Butkovitz called for the firing of then-Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams in 2015, claiming the department had failed to get dangerous buildings knocked down and allowed trainees to perform inspections despite not having proper certifications. Nutter's response? The report was: "outrageous," "misguided" and "irresponsible." And Butkovitz? Per the Daily News:

"The controller seems to desperately seek public attention and relevance in any number of ways," Nutter said.

"We're not going to get distracted by that kind of nonsense or ego or narcissistic personality disorder that seems to compel the need for constant public attention," Nutter continued.

A month later, Nutter did launch an investigation into L&I, which Butkovitz called two years too late. Once Mayor Jim Kenney took office, he moved Williams to a position in charged of sanitation, politely saying he was a good man who was inexperienced for the job he previously held.


In what turned out not to be his final shot at Nutter's policies, Butkovitz said a month before the mayor was set to leave office that "brownouts" enacted at the Philadelphia Fire Department had seriously hampered response times to blazes in the city. Brownouts were instituted by Nutter in 2010 in an effort to save the city money, with three fire companies temporarily closing each week. Butkovitz accused Nutter of "stubbornness" for keeping the policy in place for so long, and Kenney nixed it shortly after taking office.