Mark Zecca, the city Law Department veteran now running for city controller, has sometimes seemed odd-man-out in the three-way Democratic race, all but ignored as incumbent Alan Butkovitz faced off against arch-critic Brett Mandel, who joined the race against Butkovitz in 2009 and has been running ever since.
Zecca unveiled a new strategy against both foes Wednesday night in a debate before the Center City Residents Association, based on a Daily News report about an early-2012 peace parley between Butkovitz and Mandel, set up by state Sen. Larry Farnese, the Democratic leader of Center City’s 8th ward, where Mandel is a committeeman.
Meeting at Farnese’s law firm in February 2012, Butkovitz said he recalled Mandel suggesting two scenarios that would keep the two men from opposing each other in 2013. Alternative #1: Butkovitz decides not to run for re-election in 2013, so he could focus on the 2015 mayoral race. In that event, Mandel would support Butkovitz for mayor if Butkovitz supported Mandel as his successor. Butkovitz had no interest in that proposal, he said, and Mandel proceeded to describe Alternative #2: Butkovitz hires Mandel as one of his three deputy controllers, putting Mandel in position to be named acting controller (a mayoral appointment, choosing between the three deputies) if Butkovitz gets re-elected and resigns to run for mayor in 2015.
Butkovitz told The Inquirer last night that he cut off the discussion, troubled by the suggestion that in exchange for a job, he might win a political favor. Mandel said he recalled some discussion about a deputy’s job, but couldn’t remember who brought up the idea. He noted that if Butkovitz were to resign, it would be the mayor who ultimately decided on Butkovitz’s successor.
Enter Zecca. Before last night’s debate, he laid out copies of the Daily News account on every seat in the gym of the Freire Charter School on Chestnut St. In his opening remarks, Zecca accused Mandel of committing “a third-degree felony” to discuss any kind of job for himself, and he said Butkovitz was involved in “a cover-up and conspiracy” not to report the events to the nearest prosecutor.
Zecca returned to the theme four more times in the course of the 90-minute debate. “Stop the deals, stop the corruption,” he concluded.
“It’s absurd,” Mandel said afterward. “We talked about a lot of stuff. There was never any illegal bribes being discussed, offered or accepted….We walked out of that meeting thinking nothing more than I wasted an hour of my life.”
“I stopped anything bad from happening,” Butkovitz recalled. “Farnese wanted to set up a meeting to see if we could all be friends. We get to the meeting, Brett says, ‘I could see a couple ways out of this. Like, if you want to run for mayor, maybe you support me for controller and not run for controller and I’d support you for mayor.’ No….’Or, maybe you could make me deputy controller and set me up for succession.’ And I said, ‘You know, I can’t mix a political benefit for me with a job. That’s illegal. So stop.' And that was the end of it…..I have certain alarm bells that go off and I wasn’t even sure how aware he was of what he was saying.”
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