McGuiness and Spadola battle to replace longtime Auditor Wagner

DOVER — On Nov. 6, when voters go to pick an auditor, one name will be missing. For the first time since 1982, Tom Wagner will not be a candidate for the office.

Mr. Wagner, appointed in 1989 and reelected seven times, is not seeking another term, opting to retire due to health issues. In his stead, Kathy McGuiness and James Spadola are jockeying to fill the post.

Ms. McGuiness, a Democrat, is a Rehoboth Beach commissioner who sought her party’s nomination for lieutenant governor in 2016. Mr. Spadola, a Republican, ran for the state Senate two years ago.

Republicans currently hold just two of nine statewide offices, and with Mr. Wagner — who picked up 54.2 percent of the vote in 2014 despite being heavily outspent — not seeking another term, Democrats are salivating at the prospect of gaining another seat.

Kathy McGuiness

Much of the discussion between the two candidates has centered on independence, which, by nature, is required for the officeholder to properly do his or her job as “Delaware’s fiscal watchdog.”

Seeking to paint Ms. McGuiness, 51, as a political insider who owes her success to powerful friends, Mr. Spadola, 35, has argued he is best suited to audit state government because of his party affiliation. The governor’s office and both chambers of the General Assembly are controlled by the Democratic Party.

“If we really want any semblance of checks and balances in this state, having an auditor from outside the ruling party is critical to maintain some balance,” he said.

But to Ms. McGuiness, her experience in the government, business and nonprofit sectors makes her the most qualified candidate.

wShe sees a recent decision by Mr. Wagner to appoint Mr. Spadola as his deputy to be hypocritical.

“I found that that was disappointing,” she said. “It’s a reflection of a lack of judgment on my opponent.”

Mr. Wagner on Wednesday announced he had selected Mr. Spadola to serve as his second-in-command in a part-time role while he undergoes a medical procedure. Mr. Spadola characterized it as him “answering the call” to public service, while Democrats sought to paint it as political opportunism.

He said people worried about independence and impartiality should look at his opponent.

Ms. McGuiness has been endorsed by the state insurance commissioner and several lawmakers, including the House speaker and majority leader, and has received campaign contributions from a few state officials.

“The fundamental issue of this election is ensuring we have an independent auditor,” Mr. Spadola said.

James Spadola

Asked about her ties to Democratic politicians, Ms. McGuiness said it is “insulting” to question her integrity and urged voters to view Mr. Spadola’s contributions. Indeed, he has received donations from several Republican legislators.

While neither candidate has extensive auditing experience, Ms. McGuiness believes her background as a city commissioner, small-business owner and nonprofit volunteer is a strong point in her favor.

“Experience is great, but it’s not everything,” she said. “You have to be able to implement the good ideas.”

While she said she needs to get into the office to really begin examining its structures and ways to make improvements, Ms. McGuiness believes it can better utilize technology and learn from other agencies.

She hopes to listen to employees’ recommendations for potentially reorganizing the office’s structure and boosting efficiency.

“I believe that now it’s time more than ever. We, collectively with partnerships and using this office as a resource, can make this office relevant and meaningful to all Delawareans,” she said.

Mr. Spadola has worked in the finance industry and as a police officer. Both roles, he said, have prepared him for the duties of auditor.

“Audits are nothing but investigations, and I’ve got plenty of investigative experience,” he said.

Mr. Spadola officially filed for the position in July, just hours before the deadline and a week after Republican Joan Winters dropped out of the race. Ms. Winters had announced her candidacy a week beforehand.

“I felt the calling because the office is too important for the sake of Delaware taxpayers to vacate to the majority party,” he said.

Many Delawareans may be unaware they elect an auditor, but the office plays a vital role in ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent properly. In many ways, it’s the closest thing Delaware has to an independent inspector general, although it has been understaffed for years and has had significant turnover recently.

As of Oct. 7, Ms. McGuiness had raised about $201,000 and spent about $171,000. Mr. Spadola had collected approximately $57,000 and spent close to $19,000.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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