Against a backdrop of gun violence that has resulted in 1,500 fatal shootings since 2020, Philadelphia’s voters chose Cherelle Parker — who has pledged to prioritize ending the crisis — as the Democratic nominee for mayor on Tuesday.
Gun violence has been at the center of this year’s primary race, with candidates promising to implement a variety of prevention programs, reform the Police Department, improve 911 response times, and better coordinate city resources. The issue made the race to succeed Mayor Jim Kenney one of Philadelphia’s most crowded, with a record six of the city’s 17 City Council members resigning to run, as did Rebecca Rhynhart, who was the city controller. The Democratic field also included a millionaire business owner, a member of the state House of Representatives, a retired judge, and a minister.
As if to underscore how dire gun violence is in the nation’s sixth largest city, a campaign worker was fatally shot by a fellow worker on May 8, as the men were canvassing for One PA., a progressive political organization.
With just less than a quarter of registered voters casting ballots, as of early Wednesday, Parker had received 33 percent of the vote, besting her closest opponents, Rhynhart, who had 22.6 percent, and former City Council member Helen Gym, who had 21.3 percent.
Before the Associated Press called the race, Parker’s supporters, pumped up by early returns, danced, celebrated, and declared her the winner. Her absence from her party due to a dental emergency did not dampen the crowd’s spirits.
Parker distinguished herself from the crowded field by signaling early on that she would encourage the Police Department to crack down on gun violence, including through the legal application of stop-and-frisk. At her party on Tuesday night, her supporters defended this stance. “You couldn’t have a better person than Cherelle,” said Democratic U.S. Representative Dwight Evans. “She’s sending a message that safety needs to be addressed. We need to find whatever method to address it. That’s all she was saying.”
Parker thanked her supporters on Twitter shortly before midnight. “I’m so incredibly honored to have earned the Democratic nomination,” she said. “I’m looking forward to November and bringing our city together as its 100th mayor.”
Parker will face off in the general election with David Oh, the lone Republican candidate, who was among the council members to resign. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a seven-to one margin, Parker’s primary victory puts her on track to be elected Philadelphia’s first ever woman chief executive when voters go to the polls in November.
Retired U.S. Representative Bob Brady, chair of the city’s Democratic Party since 1986, said the new mayor should quickly bring law enforcement officials and community leaders together to tackle gun violence.
“They should … try to wrap their arms around what’s going on with these shootings,” said Brady, 78, who recalled that he had convened such a meeting more than 10 years ago. “They need to put people together and rock and roll.”
He said the new mayor should reach out to her former rivals and offer them opportunities to serve in her administration. “Let them know that it was a family squabble and now that the squabble is over we’re all about the same party, we’re all about the same agenda, and everybody should be working together.”
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Parker, 50, a native of Northwest Philadelphia, was the City Council’s majority leader when she resigned to seek the Mayor’s Office. Like the other candidates, she said she would issue an emergency declaration for gun violence. Her safety proposals call for hiring 300 additional foot and bike patrol officers, rehiring retired police officers, and hiring civilians to fill administrative roles to allow more officers to work the streets. She also advocates addressing quality-of-life issues by fixing broken streetlights, cleaning streets and lots, installing more security cameras along main corridors, and helping homeowners in financial need to repair and preserve their houses.
A former school teacher and member of the state House of Representatives, Parker also pledged to spend $1 million more than is currently budgeted on recruiting a more diverse police force; streamline the police recruitment process; and hire public safety officers to enforce traffic and parking issues in order to free up other police officers.
Some candidates and community activists have criticized Parker for supporting stop-and-frisk, which some believe to be a form of racial profiling. Parker countered by clarifying that she supports police officers lawfully stopping and frisking suspects when they can meet the legal standard — reasonable suspicion — to do so.
“Stop-and-frisk never went away. It is here as a result of a court precedent, Terry vs Ohio. The constitutional employment of this policing tool is something that is necessary in the city of Philadelphia,” Parker told The Trace in the fall.
“When these officers are invested in the neighborhoods and they are woven into the fabric of the community and they know the communities that they are policing and they know the people that they are sworn to protect and serve, you will be able to see a real and measurable impact on the prevention of violent crime,” she said.
Parker’s endorsements included eight from labor unions and dozens of past and present elected officials including U.S. Representatives Brendan Boyle and Evans of Pennsylvania, and six members of the City Council.
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“This is a big f–king deal for Philadelphia. Not only because she’s the first woman and first African American woman, but for the 100th mayor to be somebody who understands the intersections of race, and class, and gender, and how it shows up in people’s lives, but also to have somebody who understands the full spectrum of government,” state Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, a North Philadelphia Democrat, said at Parker’s party. “She knows how to listen.”
A May 11 poll showed Gym leading the pack with 21 percent of likely voters backing her, followed by Parker and Rhynhart, who each had 18 percent. But 15 percent of voters were undecided, and the majority appear to have broken for Parker.
Gym, a two-term at-large City Council member, entered the race with strong name recognition, because of her council wins and years spent advocating for public schools and progressive policies as an activist and organizer.
Rhynhart, a former Wall Street manager and the first woman elected to the City Controller’s Office, gained a reputation as a tenacious watchdog of city finances by uncovering dysfunction within the Police Department and City Hall.
Voters also approved creating the new cabinet-level Office of the Chief Public Safety Director. The director, who will be appointed by the mayor but subject to the City Council’s approval, will be charged with coordinating the operations of the police, fire, prisons, and other public safety agencies.