The Philadelphia Inquirer: Malcolm Kenyatta is running for auditor general: ‘We need an underdog as the watchdog’

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta is gearing up for another statewide run — this time for auditor general.

Kenyatta, who lost to John Fetterman in the Democratic primary for Senate last year, announced his candidacy Thursday in Harrisburg. If he wins the 2024 Democratic nomination, he’ll likely take on the incumbent auditor general, Tim DeFoor, a Republican elected in 2020.

“We deserve a government that works for working people, and I think that really begins with us getting serious about fixing the things that are broken,” Kenyatta told The Inquirer ahead of his announcement. “And there is no role that is better situated than the one literally created to address things in government that aren’t working.”

The auditor general is the state’s chief fiscal watchdog, responsible for ensuring that state money is spent legally and properly — typically through audits of agencies and departments.

Kenyatta enters the primary with several Democrats already behind him, including Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the American Federation of Teachers, and U.S. Reps.Dwight Evans, Matt Cartwright, and Susan Wild. Lining up Democratic endorsements this far out from the election is a sign of early campaign strength for Kenyatta, who has been an active surrogate for fellow Democrats.

Kenyatta is the first Democrat to declare his candidacy in the Democratic primary. Former HouseSpeaker Mark Rozzi, a state representative from Berks County, has indicated he is considering a run.

DeFoor, who is the state’s first Black auditor general, has spent most of his career in audits and investigations. He worked in the Office of Inspector General investigating government and contractor waste, as well as Medicaid fraud. He’s also the former Dauphin County controller, the fiscal watchdog for the county.

A spokesperson for DeFoor said he will officially announce his reelection bid this summer or early fall.

Asked whether his lack of experience as an auditor makes him a poor fit for the job, Kenyatta said auditing experience is not necessary for the role.

“The issue in the auditor general’s office is not that we don’t have enough accountants floating around,” Kenyatta said at his campaign announcement Thursday. “The issue is we don’t have leadership. And I’m gonna provide that desperately needed leadership.”

Kenyatta told The Inquirer his work on the House State Government Committee, which oversees state agencies and elections, as well asthe Finance Committee gave him experience in interrogating how money is spent.

He also pointed to former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale — a Democrat who held the position from 2013 until 2021 — as a leader who wasn’t an auditor before his election. He praised DePasquale’s reports, including one that found Pennsylvania wasn’t processing its rape kit backlog properly and another that found some abuse hotlines were going unanswered.

As in his Senate run, Kenyatta said he thinks someone with his background — growing up in a working-class home in North Philadelphia — would be well-suited to evaluate how well government is working for people who depend on it.

“I’ve been called an underdog a lot of times, and I do believe we need an underdog as the watchdog,” he said.

He said he would bring back school audits if elected.

“We will have annual compliance audits to make sure schools have safety plans,” Kenyatta said. “Dealing with folks in our school buildings to make sure they have the proper credentials.”

Kenyatta’s public platform has grown considerably since becoming a state representative in 2018. He was a visible surrogate for President Joe Biden during Biden’s 2020 campaign and became a frequent commentator on MSNBC leading up to and during his Senate run.

He came in third place in the 2022 Senate race, securing just 10% of the vote. But many observers said he outperformed his meager campaign fundraising.

Kenyatta was the first openly gay person in Pennsylvania to run for Senate and would have been the first openly gay Black senator in U.S. history. A documentary on his campaign, Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn, produced by Al Roker, is premiering this month.