Auditor's Race Poses Historic First For Candidates Of Color

Jun 17, 2020

Pennsylvania's two major political parties have nominated candidates of color for state auditor general, a historic step that means that voters will for the first time elect a racial minority to lead a statewide executive branch office.

Nina Ahmad, who came to the United States from Bangladesh as a student 40 years ago, has apparently won a six-way Democratic Party primary as counting wraps up. Tim DeFoor, the Republican Party's uncontested nominee, is African American.

The general election is Nov. 3.

Tim Reese, who is black, was nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2015 to fill the open state treasurer's job left vacant by Rob McCord's resignation.

Other than Reese, political analysts and campaign consultants could not think of anyone of color who has been elected to serve in one of the five statewide elected executive branch offices: governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general and auditor general.

“This is a historic race that our state and our country has come to a place where this signals what the future could look like, where regardless of how you're packaged, we can live up to Dr. Martin Luther King's words: judge on the content of your character and not on the color of your skin," Ahmad said in an interview.

It is, Ahmad said, still not "where we need to be, but this is a good start, at least for Pennsylvania.”

As far as nominees go, Republicans nominated Lynn Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star receiver, to run for governor in 2006. Swann, who is black, ultimately lost to the incumbent, Democrat Ed Rendell, who is white.

Pennsylvania's auditor general generally serves as the state's fiscal watchdog, auditing how money is spent. However, people serving in the office have been able to use it to advance public policy goals, and it often serves as a springboard to other offices.

In other firsts, Democrats nominated writer Nikil Saval of Philadelphia for the state Senate in the June 2 primary, which would make him the first member of the chamber who is of South Asian descent. Saval, who was endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, beat two-term incumbent Larry Farnese, and has no Republican opposition in the fall election.

Ahmad, of Philadelphia, has a doctorate in chemistry and for at least two decades has been active in Democratic politics and in organizing voters in South Asian communities. She was president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women, a deputy in Mayor Jim Kenney's administration and a member of President Barack Obama's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

DeFoor is Dauphin County's controller, first elected in 2015. He previously worked as an investigator in the state attorney general's office and state inspector general's office, as well as for various federal contractors and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's health plan.