Mr. Schmidt Goes to Harrisburg

As Mayor Nutter made his rounds recently in the State Capitol, urging lawmakers to pass the city's budget-relief legislation, he was shadowed by an unlikely figure: GOP City Controller candidate Al Schmidt.

"I was following in his wake, trying to correct the record," Schmidt said. "I wanted to explain that Philadelphia was in dire financial shape not simply because of the national economy, but because of political decisions that this mayor and former mayors and City Council have made."

It sounds strange, doesn't it? A Philadelphia Republican clashing with a powerful Democrat for actual ideological reasons? And on a matter of serious public importance?

Schmidt pitched his views to a powerful audience: Republican leadership in the state Senate. He says he met with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), Majority Whip Jane Clare Orie (R., Allegheny), and Senate President Pro Tem Joseph B. Scarnati (R., Cameron), among others.

"It was clear to me that the Republican Senate was going to give the mayor what he wanted. I wasn't trying to stop approval of the sales-tax hike, but I did want them to consider what strings could be attached that would compel the city to act in a more fiscally responsible way," said Schmidt, a former senior analyst at the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office.

His specific proposal - a state takeover of Philadelphia's pension fund - was considered by state senators but ultimately rejected as impractical, given the size of the city's fund and the administrative capacity of the state agency that would have managed it.

Nonetheless, Republican senators said Schmidt influenced the debate in Harrisburg.

"A lot of his ideas were talked about and incorporated," Orie said.

Schmidt faces incumbent Democratic City Controller Alan Butkovitz in November.

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