Malcolm Kenyatta Wins Democratic Primary For PA Auditor General, Will Face Republican Tim DeFoor

Kenyatta defeated his Democratic primary opponent Mark Pinsley to win the party’s nod for state treasurer. He’ll face DeFoor, the incumbent, in November.

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By Kate Huangpu | Spotlight PA

Auditor general candidates Malcolm Kenyatta (Democrat) and Tim DeFoor (Republican)

After an acrimonious race, Philadelphia state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta beat Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley in the Democratic primary election for Pennsylvania auditor general.

The Associated Press called the race for Kenyatta just after 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Unofficial results show Kenyatta with 61% of the vote to Pinsley’s 39%.

Kenyatta will face incumbent Republican Tim DeFoor — who did not have a primary challenge — in the November general election.

The auditor general is responsible for conducting financial audits to track how public dollars are spent and check for malfeasance or waste. The role has also served as a launchpad to higher office — Democrat Bob Casey served as auditor general (and also as state treasurer) before his election to the U.S. Senate.

Kenyatta was the state Democratic Party’s chosen candidate. Along with that coveted endorsement, he received backing from major political players such as the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council, and top lawmakers such as state House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia).

Kenyatta also outraised and outspent Pinsley. Since the beginning of the year, Kenyatta raised more than $100,000 and spent over $144,000. (He also had $148,000 on hand from fundraising last year.)

Pinsley, meanwhile, raised about a quarter of that total and spent half as much as Kenyatta in the same period.

First elected to the state House in 2018 at age 28, Kenyatta became one of the youngest members of the legislature at the time. Notable legislative efforts have included sponsoring legislation that would cap campaign contributions, require more campaign finance reporting by certain nonprofits, and codify non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals.

This isn’t the first time Kenyatta, now 33, has run for higher office. He lost a 2022 bid for U.S. Senate in the primary against then-Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Kenyatta also stumped for President Joe Biden on the campaign trail during the 2020 election.

Kenyatta and Pinsley had a contentious primary race.

In February, one of Kenyatta’s state House primary opponents — he is also seeking another term in the legislature — posted a video on Facebook that had been captured by a Ring security camera. The footage showed Kenyatta accusing Pinsley of racism, saying, “There’s the guy Mark Pinsley, who I told you don’t like Black people.”

Pinsley called Kenyatta’s remarks “divisive” and his behavior “a bit immature.” Kenyatta at the time said the footage amounted to “dirty political tricks.”

Kenyatta later clarified that he was referring to a comment Pinsley made during the redistricting process. “We don’t need a ghetto,” Pinsley said in 2022, referring to a proposed district that combined Allentown and Bethlehem.

Pinsley, who is Jewish, said he used the term in its historical context to refer to the forced segregation of Jews but apologized for causing offense.

In a meeting with The Inquirer’s editorial board, Kenyatta said he stood by his comments.

Pinsley’s campaign was accused of submitting nominating petitions with fake signatures. A handful of people came forward, including elected officials, claiming they never signed, The Inquirer and Daily Local News reported.

Pinsley said he did not know the root cause of the allegedly fraudulent signatures and would comply with any investigations at the state or county level. The Chester County Detectives, the investigative arm of the county district attorney’s office, is conducting an investigation.

DeFoor seeks another four years

Kenyatta will face DeFoor, the Republican incumbent, in November.

DeFoor was first elected in 2020 and is the first person of color to win a statewide office in Pennsylvania. He was elected at the same time as Republican state Treasurer Stacy Garrity; they both flipped party control of their row offices for the first time in over a decade.

During his more than three years in the role, DeFoor has focused on the core requirements of the job, which include monitoring county offices and district courts and auditing local pension funds.

Unlike his Democratic predecessor Eugene DePasquale — who was on Tuesday’s primary ballot for attorney general — DeFoor has conducted relatively few special investigations on policy issues seen as outside the traditional scope of the office.

One report released by DePasquale laid out recommendations for reducing gun violence, while another highlighted the revenue Pennsylvania could generate by taxing recreational marijuana.

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said as much when describing DeFoor’s tenure.

“From my perspective, when DePasquale was in office, he was moving the office into the accountability direction whereas DeFoor has prioritized the original accounting [responsibilities],” said Borick. “You come away with the sense that he’s following a path that focuses on those more core elements of an auditor general position.”

One exception is a report DeFoor released criticizing a dozen school districts for raising local taxes “while holding millions of dollars in their General Funds.” He called the practice a “shell game.” Critics, meanwhile, said that DeFoor lacked an understanding of the districts’ budgeting processes.

DeFoor and Kenyatta are not strangers to one another.

Following his win, DeFoor testified before the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee and refused to affirm that the 2020 election was fair and accurate in response to a question from Kenyatta.

At the hearing, Kenyatta — who sits on the committee — asked DeFoor whether he thought the election was “a free and fair election that Pennsylvania should have confidence in.”

DeFoor said that he believed his election was fair, but “as far as anybody else’s election, that’s a conversation that you would have to have with them, but I haven’t heard any complaints with regards to my specific election.”

It’s unclear if any independent or third-party candidates for auditor general will join DeFoor and Kenyatta on the November ballot. Such candidates have until August to submit signatures.

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