Recently, I had a chance to chat with City Council President Doug Shields on the race for City Controller. I didn't plan it, it just sort of happened. We were talking about Bill Peduto's withdrawal from the mayoral primary and the conversation turned to the Controller race. So it seems only fair to talk to some other candidates for that position.
Seems only fair. And balanced.
Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with current Prothonotary and candidate for the office of City Controller, Michael Lamb. We met at the Starbucks near the Whole Foods on the eastside of town. The coffee, over-priced and bland. The music shifted in that inexorably Starbucks sort of way from a random Brandenburg to Paul Desmond in 5/4. Lamb in a crisp blue shirt, Lamb's campaign manager Doug and I dressed far more casually.
Starting with the same question I posed to Shields, I asked how his campaign was going. Understandably (though that's certainly not a criticism) he said it's "going well." and that the grassroots networking stuff is "firing on all cylinders."
When I asked how he defined "grassroots" that's when the interview took off.
A little backstory is probably necessary here. The previous mayoral primary race (the one that took place waaaay back in 2005) the top three candidates were, Bob O'Connor, Bill Peduto and Michael Lamb in that order. If my memory serves, O'Connor garnered about half the votes, and Peduto and Lamb (more or less) split the remaning half, with Peduto getting a larger share.
So coming in third in that race, in one way or another, he's building on the positives and negatives of that race.
For instance, on one hand he's looking to raise his profile in those sections of the city where he didn't do too well in 2005 (namely those places where O'Connor did very well, like Lincoln Place and Observatory Hill)). On the other, he says he has a greater name recognition because of his participation in the 2005 primary. There's no need for a "learning curve" either for a city-wide race, either. He's got his voter ID database chugging along and just (in a sense) picked up where he left off two years ago.
Additionally with Peduto pulling out of the race, there's some more attention to be paid to the City Controller race.
I asked him the next general set of questions: Assuming everything goes his way and he is elected City Controller, what's he going to do once he gets there? First off, he said, there has to be a "cultural change" in the City Controllers office because right now, it's "dysfunctional" (his term). For instance the office is mandated to do a periodical fiscal and performance audits and they haven't been delivered on time in a long time. When asked how the office is able to get away with it, he smiled and answered, "That's a good question."
Lamb said that he was in a similar position when he took over the Prothonotary's office a number of years ago. He said that when he arrived that office was in "a general malaise" working with what amounted to 19th century technology - books and pens. He updated the office to computers and overcame the internal resistance to change. He said that his experience at the Prothonotary's office would help him at the City Controller's office.
That's an internal - but what about the rest of the city?
The biggest issue of all, the city's distressed status. The budget doesn't do anyting, he said, to address the distressed status of the city. Unless things change, he added, we're going to be right back here now in three years. The Controller's office could, he said, put together real numbers showing a clearer picture of the city's finances. It's a necessary step.