While a Philadelphia councilmember for the 9th District, Cherelle Parker hosted a ceremony on Ocotober 29, 2021. The event added Vanita Cruse to the street signs on the 7300 block of Stenton Avenue in recognition of her lifelong service to others and her advocacy in the optometry field. Photo credit: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

Philadelphia had 99 male mayors, now they might have 1 woman

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Cherelle Parker won the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia mayor, and is favored to become the first woman, and Black woman to serve as the 100th city leader.

“I’m so incredibly honored to have earned the Democratic nomination tonight. It’s been a long road, and to see the tireless work of my campaign team, supporters, and family pay off is humbling,” said Parker on Twitter when polls released her in the lead by over 22 thousand votes in Tuesday’s city elections.

After months of campaigning in a jam-packed Democratic primary race, the former city councilmember, Cherelle Parker, received 28.7 percent of the vote. Her two most formidable opponents, Rebecca Rhynhart (19.7%) and Helen Gym (18.6%) also made history as top contenders going into the final weeks of the race. All of whom are women, set an unprecedented mark in Philadelphia’s electoral politics.

“I’ll keep fighting for real change in city government,” stated Rhynhart in a thank you message following the race. Rhynhart left her position as city controller to run. She was backed by three former Philadelphia mayors and a previous Pennsylvania governor.

Yet and still, Parker was known to be the top choice for the Democratic establishment, though she emphasized being “homegrown” rather than “hand-picked.” Going into the race’s final weeks, City Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez pitched her support. “Cherelle has the lived experience that is essential to leading our city at this time. Philadelphians can see themselves in her,” Sanchez wrote in a statement following her departure from an initial pack of almost a dozen candidates.

Parker also received backing from key unions, the Sanitation and Transportation Workers, and the Building Trades Council, a local coalition of 30 unions in the construction industry.

Like many close elections, campaigning got ugly. Ongoing ads questioned the ethics of some candidates. Candidates accused others of flip-flopping on city issues. All the while, voters were concerned with pressing issues that have plagued communities across the metro area. 

“This election will be won on the ground and decided by real Philadelphians who deeply understand how important this moment is for the future of our city,” predicted Parker leading up to election day. She was right. The issues on the table were public safety.

Crime, cleaner streets and policing were key concerns for residents and business owners. A report by Major Cities Chiefs showed Philadelphia ranked second in homicides in 2021 and 2022, beating New York and Los Angeles, but falling behind Chicago. Another issue regarding crime is car theft. Data shows reported stolen vehicles from January 1 to April 30 of 2023 were more than yearly reports from 2012 to 2019.

Included in public safety problems are serious environmental issues. From 2021 on, Philly311 reports show that the highest service requests by residents are to remove abandoned vehicles, illegal dumping and graffiti. 

City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier pointed out at a WURD’s 2022 Earth Day event that the highest crime rates are in the most blighted areas of the city. WURD is a local Black-owend radio station.

Gauthier reiterated her concerns at a council meeting on May 8. “Conditions like illegal dumping, nuisance businesses, dangerous driving, and blighted properties are directly correlated with lower property values, stunted commercial growth, and higher rates of gun violence – so we should be striving to tackle these issues head-on, in the neighborhoods that need the support most urgently,” said Councilmember Gauthier.

Parker’s campaign spoke to Philadelphian’s immediate problems. She repeatedly announced plans for more police and enact constitutionally protected stop-and-frisk tactics. The probable Philly-governor-to-be maintained a stance on policing that goes against a progressive Democratic agenda. Since the killing of motorist George Floyd, critics of law enforcement call for the reallocation of police funding to social programs. Contrasting, Parker promised to hire 300 more cops.

Her “tough-on-crime” stance was one of the reason’s another former mayoral candidate, Derek Green endorsed Parker. “Who has the ability to really say the things that need to be said that may not be the most popular but are needed to reduce gun violence in the city?” Green asked at a press conference announcing his support for Parker.

Included in the city’s critical needs is addressing the drug crisis. Its Kensington section, an area that is part of Sánchez’s district when she was a councilmember, has the country’s largest open air drug market. The City published that 2021 saw 1,276 unintentional overdose deaths, which was a 5% increase from 2020. More troubling is the drug trifecta flooding the streets: heroin, fentanyl and the latest tranq, a cocktail of fentanyl mixed with xylazine, an animal tranquilizer.

Undergirding public safety is poverty and a growing wealth chasm between residents. The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia’s study produced findings that showed the city outpacing other metropolitans in wealth inequality. While Philadelphia has a high rate of college-educated citizens, most crime occurs in the poorest areas of the city.

In a Democratic-majority city, Parker is slated to win the final race against Republican candidate David Oh in November. If she comes out a champion, the “homegrown” mayor has a lot of housekeeping to do.

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