Campaigns & Elections

Malcolm Kenyatta wins Democratic primary for auditor general

The Philadelphia state Rep. is the first openly LGBTQ candidate nominated for a state row office

State Rep. and Demcoratic candidate for auditor general Malcolm Kenyatta

State Rep. and Demcoratic candidate for auditor general Malcolm Kenyatta Harrison Cann

Four years after Pennsylvania saw its first person of color elected to a statewide row office, the commonwealth will have two candidates of color battling for the office of auditor general. 

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta defeated Mark Pinsley in the Democratic primary for auditor general Tuesday night, setting up a matchup in November with Republican incumbent Tim DeFoor, who ran unopposed on the GOP ballot. 

Kenyatta gave an emphatic victory speech at his election night event in North Philadelphia, telling supporters he’s the auditor general candidate “for the working people.” 

“My opponent is being funded by the wealthiest man in Pennsylvania, and that’s who he is accountable to. I will be accountable to you, only you,” Kenyatta said Tuesday night. “If you are a family who knows what it means to have to look at your bills and everything’s not matching up, I’m your guy. If you’re the person who worries about your pension and whether or not it’s going to be there for you when you retire, I’m your guy.” 

As of Wednesday morning, Kenyatta had 633,737 votes, about 64% of all votes, compared to Pinsley’s 353,601.

Kenyatta campaign

Less than two years after losing the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to John Fetterman, Kenyatta opted to run for statewide office again and eventually earned the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s endorsement. 

In an interview in March, Kenyatta told City & State the role of auditor general needs someone from a working-class background who will “advocate for the types of statutory, regulatory and executive changes that allow us to utilize the limited resources we have in ways that make the biggest impact on real people.”

When casting his ballot alongside his husband Tuesday morning, Kenyatta spoke on the historic nature of the day. 

“I would just say this,” Kenyatta said. “It’s not every day that a Black gay kid from North Philly gets to represent Pennsylvanians in this way.

“It’s not every day that somebody gets to go and vote with their husband,” Kenyatta added. “And so, this is a special moment and I think a part of what it says is that people just want competent, serious leadership.”

Kenyatta, who became the first openly LGBTQ+ person of color to serve in the General Assembly when he took office in 2019, has represented parts of North Philadelphia in Harrisburg for nearly six years. He has made a name for himself in the state and national parties during that time as an outspoken progressive. In addition to serving as a surrogate for President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, last year, Biden appointed Kenyatta to be chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

Matched up against Kenyatta was Pinsley, Lehigh County Controller and former South Whitehall Township commissioner, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2018 and 2022. Pinsley leaned on his fiscal experience throughout the primary, arguing his time as Lehigh County Controller positions him best to fulfill the role of the state’s fiscal watchdog. 

Primary politics

With few ideological discrepancies among the two Democratic candidates, the race turned personal in the months leading up to the primary election. A video circulated of Kenyatta accusing Pinsley of racism – a claim Pinsley said is without merit.

In a statement to news outlets, Kenyatta did not explain the basis for the accusation, instead calling the video “dirty political tricks.” Pinsley said the accusation was false and told Lehigh Valley News that it “doesn’t show good temperament.”

Pinsley also had to deal with questions about the validity of his nominating petitions when Democratic activists alleged that his campaign had forged signatures on his petitions from Chester County. 

Pinsley said there was no legal complaint filed against his campaign and he has remained on the ballot, noting the Department of State hadn’t taken action regarding any alleged wrongdoing.

News for November

Unsurprisingly, the 2020 results are bound to be a significant talking point heading into the 2024 polls. 

In the general election, Kenyatta will go up against DeFoor, the first person of color to win a statewide office in Pennsylvania and the first Republican to hold the auditor general position since 1997.

As Democrats have won notable races for U.S. Senate, governor and state Supreme Court, the GOP picked up unlikely victories in 2020 in the auditor general and state treasurer race. Now in 2024, the Republican Party is hoping to build on that statewide success, as Democrats seek to take the row offices – both auditor general and state treasurer – back. 

A month after DeFoor took office as auditor general, Kenyatta questioned DeFoor about election fraud claims at a state House committee hearing following the 2020 election, a time when election integrity was being questioned after former President Donald Trump baselessly insisted there was widespread voter fraud. 

“I believe my election was fair,” DeFoor said at the time. “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.”

Kenyatta came at DeFoor once again during his victory speech Tuesday night, calling him an “election denier” that “hangs out with election deniers.” 

“We have an auditor general that’s going to go across Pennsylvania and tell Pennsylvanians that they should vote for the election-denier-in-chief,” Kenyatta said. “We have to win this race for the future.”