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PA Dems Back Kenyatta for Auditor

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party wants state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta to be the state’s next auditor general.

The Philadelphia County lawmaker, first elected to the legislature in 2018 and reelected last year, overwhelmingly secured the party’s endorsement over the weekend at its winter meeting in Harrisburg. He’s the first openly gay Black candidate endorsed for auditor general.

“Malcolm is a friend, a colleague, and a transformational leader,” said state party chairman state Sen. Sharif Street in the endorsement announcement. “He brings a clear vision, undisputed work ethic, and the energy our party needs to win big next year.”

Kenyatta, who sits on the House Commerce, Finance, Judiciary, Liquor Control, and State Government Committees, has set big goals should he win the office.

“I’ll rebuild the Bureau of School Audits, which has been dismantled by the incumbent,” said Kenyatta, referencing Republican Auditor General Timothy DeFoor.

DeFoor transferred school audit responsibility back to the Department of Education last year, saying it was important for auditors to “focus on the work we are required by law to perform.” DeFoor added staffing issues meant it would take seven years to complete a single school audit, raising worries that results would be outdated.

The decision to end audits enraged Kenyatta, who said last March the decision made no sense because “we have nobody checking to make sure people driving our kids to school every day have the proper license. I will fix that problem.”

Kenyatta also vowed to help working families. “We’ll create a Bureau of Labor and Worker Protections and use every tool at my disposal to stand up for organized labor and working people. I know in my bones the impact of a government program that works or doesn’t. I’ll be the bold watchdog and public advocate that we need.”

He faces Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley and state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) in the Democratic primary.

Pinsley was reelected last month to a second term. He has also criticized DeFoor’s school audit decision and accused him of trying to privatize education.

Rozzi, who served briefly as speaker of the House earlier this year, said he plans to run as a centrist. The Berks County Democrat’s campaign appears focused on Rozzi’s push for “good government reform.”

Pinsley and Rozzi’s resumes weren’t enough to convince the state party for an endorsement. Political observers weren’t surprised.

“I expected the Democrats to endorse Rep. Kenyatta,” Jeff Jubelirer of Bellevue Communications Group told DVJournal. “He proved himself to be a strong campaigner and team player once he withdrew from the 2022 U.S. Senate primary. During the campaign and as a state legislator, Kenyatta has made inroads across the commonwealth and is one of the party’s rising stars.”

Republican consultant Charlie Gerow, with Quantum Communications, said Kenyatta is “a Marxist for crying out loud,” said Gerow. “That’s where the Democratic Party is right now. It’s identity politics. He’s African American. He’s gay. He checks all the boxes. That’s what they’re looking for, not competency. That guy’s got no business running for auditor general.”

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party also endorsed President Joe Biden and incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey for reelection.

Whoever wins will almost certainly face DeFoor, the first African American to be elected to a statewide position in Pennsylvania. The Republican told DVJournal that he has “always known what he wanted to do… I’m an auditor.”

He portrayed the auditor general as a nonpartisan office that follows the fiscal code. “Anybody receiving state funds,” DeFoor said, noting that designation covers state departments, semi-government agencies, and taxpayer-funded outside organizations. “It is our responsibility that the funds they receive are being spent the way they’re supposed to be spent.”

The Attorney General’s Office also reviews state programs to ensure they are run efficiently, including last year’s audit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. That financial review discovered the turnpike racked up debt due to its $450 million annual payment to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Those payments were lowered to $50 million.

DeFoor is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

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Kenyatta Kicks Off Bid for State Auditor General

Standing in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for auditor general, a job currently held by Republican Tim DeFoor.

“As a state representative for nearly five years, I have worked to protect workers’ rights, pass common-sense gun safety policies, and root out government corruption and waste,” said Kenyatta. “I’ve held multiple legislative leadership roles: as a member of the powerful state government committee with oversight on state agencies and elections, minority chair of the subcommittee on campaign finance and elections, minority chair of automation and technology in the committee on commerce, and a member of the finance committee.”

Kenyatta, a three-term member of the Pennsylvania House, became the first openly gay person of color to serve in that body when he was elected in 2018.

On Thursday, he discussed his story of growing up in a poor working family. He also outlined his agenda to reform the office and use it as a tool to “keep Pennsylvania families from being screwed.”

Kenyatta claimed to have the support of most of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation as well as state House and Senate leaders, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, and organized labor.

Kenyatta announced a three-point agenda for the office that includes: Rebuilding the department of school audits (which was closed under DeFoor), creating a worker liaison, and using the power of the office to take on wage theft, employee misclassification, union busting, and using the office to measure and support efforts to make communities healthier and safer.

Kenyatta ran for the U.S. Senate last year, losing the Democratic primary to now-Sen. John Fetterman.  In that race, he campaigned on an avowedly progressive platform.

House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) said, “Malcolm is exactly what we need in the next auditor general: Tenacious, honest, and mission-driven. I’ve watched him throughout his life and career center on the needs of working Pennsylvanians. I know he will continue that work in this critical statewide role. I’m proud to endorse him.”

Kenyatta earned a B.A. in public communications and a minor in political science from Temple University and an M.S. in strategic and digital communications from Drexel University. He completed the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executives in State and Local Government program, according to his website.

Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) said, “I’m proud to endorse Rep. Kenyatta to be our next auditor general. I’ve served in Harrisburg and Washington. I know what it takes to deliver for people, and so does Malcolm. As auditor general, I’m confident he will be a powerful and independent voice for common sense, good government, and fairness. He has worked hard around our commonwealth for years now—he can win, and he will win.”

DeFoor, the current auditor general, took office in January 2021. He was previously the Dauphin County controller and has a background in law enforcement, working as an inspector for the state inspector general and the attorney general. According to his website, he also worked as a fraud investigator and internal auditor for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

DeFoor holds an associate degree in paralegal studies from Harrisburg Area Community College, a B.A., in sociology and history from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.S. in project management from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

While Kenyatta has been one of the most outspoken members of the state Democratic Party, DeFoor has largely avoided the limelight, instead focusing on the fiscal duties of his office. He released audits last month showing local school districts, including several in the Philly suburbs, were shifting around money to get higher property taxes without facing the voters.

“The overall results of this audit should raise concerns due to the districts’ common yet questionable practices that are placing an excess burden on taxpayers across Pennsylvania,” DeFoor wrote.

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