Democrat Nina Ahmad (left) and Republican Timothy DeFoor (right) are seeking election to the state Auditor General Office. Whoever wins will be the first person of color elected to that office. (Courtesy of the candidates' campaigns) Nina Ahmad and Timothy DeFoor
Democrat Nina Ahmad (left) and Republican Timothy DeFoor (right) are seeking election to the state Auditor General Office. Whoever wins will be the first person of color elected to that office. (Courtesy of the candidates' campaigns)

Republican Timothy DeFoor would be the first Black man elected to state executive office in the commonwealth’s 233-year history, and Democrat Nina Ahmad would be the first woman of color elected to a state executive office.

This year’s race for Pennsylvania’s Auditor General is a historic one, with both candidates being people of color.

If Republican Timothy DeFoor wins, he’ll be the first Black person elected to a statewide executive office in the commonwealth’s 233-year history.

And if Democrat Nina Ahmad wins, she will be the only woman to hold a statewide executive office currently, and the first woman of color elected to hold a statewide executive office in state history. Ahmad is Bengali.

The senior civil servant seat, which is charged with improving and auditing government accounting of taxpayers’ money, has long been held by Democrats in Pennsylvania. The last Republican to hold the position was Barbara Hafer, who was elected in 1988 and served two consecutive four-year terms.

The Auditor General post is often seen as a path to higher office. Bob Casey Sr. served as Auditor General before he was elected governor and Bob Casey Jr. held the position immediately before he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Hafer was the Republican nominee for governor in 1990, but lost to the elder Casey. Hafer later switched parties and ran for Congress as a Democrat.

Current Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is campaigning for election to represent Pennsylvania’s 10th US House District in Congress.

On Nov. 3, DeFoor hopes to wrest the Auditor General seat from Democratic hands.

DeFoor, who is currently Dauphin County’s controller, said he will bring a wealth of experience to the position, including his service as a special investigator in the state Inspector General’s office and as a special agent in the state Attorney General’s office. 

“I would bring nearly 30 years of combined experience in auditing and law enforcement. I have spent a career devoted to detecting government fraud, waste, and abuse,” DeFoor said in an email to The Keystone.

In the Attorney General’s Office, DeFoor investigated Medicare and Medicaid fraud, abuse of the elderly, and prescription drug diversion, he said.

Ahmad, who holds a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a biomedical fellowship with Thomas Jefferson University, worked as a molecular biologist and small business owner. She most recently served as Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement under Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

“I have taken the lessons I learned in my scientific training and career with me throughout the rest of my career path,” Ahmad said in an email to The Keystone. “These analytical skills are particularly well-suited in the data-rich environment of the office of Auditor General to make actionable recommendations.”

While serving as Deputy Mayor in Philadelphia, Ahmad said, she established the first Department of Public Engagement in the city. And as a Cabinet member, she was responsible for finding efficiencies in the city’s $4 billion operating budget.

Ahmad has served as a Trustee of The Philadelphia Foundation, where she chaired the grantmaking committee with oversight over $40 million granted to nonprofits, and helped safeguard the $500 million endowment. Ahmad also served as a member of the National Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under President Barack Obama, where, she noted, “I understood the importance of representation in the crafting of public policy that is inclusive.” 

Ahmad is a member of the national board of the National Organization for Women.

In commenting on the issue of race in this year’s election for the Auditor General, DeFoor said, “as a Black man, I can’t help but see myself through the eyes of my community… paving the way for those who look like me to believe that anything you dream is possible.

He continued, “It is clear whose shoulders I stand upon and the precedent that will be set, beginning with this election.”

If elected, DeFoor said, his responsibility will be to follow the state’s constitution and state fiscal code.

“The fiscal code does not change for a Republican or Democrat,” he said. “My commitment is to the people of Pennsylvania.”

Ahmad said winning the landmark election would place her in an “entirely male executive landscape.” She said she would use that “intersection of race and gender” to address needs such as maternal mortality and the use of tax dollars to settle workplace misconduct and sexual harassment cases “to the tune of $3.2 million in the last several years.”

If she wins, Ahmad said, “Pennsylvanians can count on me to gather the facts necessary to hold government agencies accountable and to guide policymakers as they make crucial decisions about how to allocate funds in a fiscally prudent way.”