"We reel from crisis to crisis," Tracy said of the city. "We stumble from problem to problem."
Butkovitz, 61, a two-term Democrat and ward leader who previously served as a state representative, cast Tracy as an uninformed newcomer with close ties to the state Republican Party.
"In a nutshell, Terry just described what we have done since 2005," said Butkovitz, defending what he called a "streamlining" of department audits to make room for performance audits of certain areas of the city's finances where risk and fraud flourish.
Debate moderator Dave Davies of WHYY asked Butkovitz if he planned to complete a full third term if re-elected or if he would resign to run for mayor in 2015, as many have predicted.
"Right now I don't know how that will go," Butkovitz replied, predicting that the field for the mayoral race will be more clear in 2014. "You can't count on me necessarily finishing the term, but there's a lot to be decided."
Butkovitz rejected the notion that, in a city with a 6-to-1 voter registration edge for Democrats over Republicans, the controller should be elected from the minority political party.
"There isn't a problem of a majority and minority party in Philadelphia," Butkovitz said. "There's a problem of one party. The governor and the mayor act in cahoots. The Republicans in Philadelphia, such as they are, operate as part of the power structure."
Tracy called it "almost comical" that Butkovitz complains about Republican policies ruining the city. He noted that six decades ago the city was governed by an "antiquated and corrupt" political machine - he didn't mention that it was the Republican Party of the time - until a reform movement from the opposite party took power.
"They came in and they threw the bums out," Tracy said. "I think when they see what has happened in the last 60 years, they're probably rolling over in their graves."
On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN