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Cherelle Parker won the Democratic nomination for mayor

She is likely to become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor, and the city’s first female mayor.

Cherelle Parker with her son, Langston Mullins, 10, after she cast her vote Tuesday in the Democratic primary.
Cherelle Parker with her son, Langston Mullins, 10, after she cast her vote Tuesday in the Democratic primary.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

Cherelle Parker — a West Oak Lane native who lost much of her family at a young age and went on to become a state lawmaker and City Council majority leader — won the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia mayor, making her the odds-on favorite to become the 100th mayor and the first woman to ever helm the city.

Parker’s history-making victory came in one of the most competitive mayoral elections in recent memory, with as many as five contenders still seen as viable when polls opened.

The joyous occasion was marked with some confusion when the celebrating crowd was told late Tuesday at a union hall in North Philadelphia that Parker wouldn’t be appearing at the party.

Parker was hospitalized Tuesday for a dental emergency. Campaign spokesperson Aren Platt said in an emailed statement after midnight that Parker “had a recent dental issue that required immediate medical attention this evening,” and was receiving care at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I’m so incredibly honored to have earned the Democratic nomination tonight,” Parker said on Twitter. “It’s been a long road, and to see the tireless work of my campaign team, supporters, and family pay off is humbling. I’m looking forward to November and bringing our city together as its 100th mayor.”

Ryan Boyer, leader of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Council, which backed Parker, had earlier said Parker was suffering from dehydration.

Parker, 50, ran on a tough-on-crime platform, pledging to hire 300 new cops for her signature community policing plan and to restore the controversial law enforcement tactic known as stop-and-frisk. She pitched herself as a champion of Philadelphia’s “middle neighborhoods,” those that are neither wealthy nor mired in deep poverty, and vowed to provide stability for working families with good-paying jobs, quality housing, and improved educational opportunities.

A consummate political insider, Parker was the clear favorite of the city’s Democratic establishment, racking up endorsements from scores of local elected officials and ward leaders while getting support from deep-pocketed unions in the building trades and service industry.

Throughout the campaign, Parker, a single mother who was the only Black candidate among the top contenders, emphasized her personal story and said in her stump speech that she has lived her entire life “at the intersection of race and gender.” She appears to have won by substantial margins in the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods, especially in her Northwest Philadelphia base.

With a booming voice and a penchant for speaking in the third person, Parker regularly impressed in televised debates and at the dozens of candidate forums hosted by civic organizations that defined the grueling nine-month campaign.

Despite a barrage of negative advertising in the final days of the campaign, Parker’s opponents largely refrained from attacking her, and her campaign suffered no major controversies.

When election day arrived, it was apparent to many that term-limited Mayor Jim Kenney’s successor would be a woman. But it was far from clear who would break Philadelphia’s glass ceiling.

Two of Parker’s closest competitors were former Councilmember Helen Gym, a champion of the local progressive movement, and former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, a technocrat who ran on a promise to make the city run more efficiently.

“This fight was never about one leader,” Gym said in a concession speech. “It was always about our values, our vision, and our belief in one another.”

Rhynhart, in her concession, said she was “really proud of the campaign and the way we all came together here to fight for a better Philadelphia.”

The other top contenders were former Councilmember Allan Domb, a real estate magnate who poured $10 million of his own money into his campaign, and grocer Jeff Brown, a first-time candidate who shot to the top of the pack early before seeing his campaign collapse amid a series of self-inflicted wounds.

“I thought I could bring to the city a unique perspective and provide the leadership the city of Philadelphia desperately needs,” Domb said in a brief speech Tuesday. Brown also conceded before 11:30 p.m.

Parker faces Republican David Oh in the November general election and is likely to prevail thanks to Democrats’ more than 7-to-1 voter registration advantage in the city. The winner will take office in January.

Who is Cherelle Parker?

Parker grew up in poverty during the crack epidemic, and she credits her success to her grandparents, who largely raised her, and to leaders in her neighborhood who looked after her.

A major turning point in her life came when she won a citywide oration contest when she was a student at the Parkway Program high school in Center City. The speech, which Parker performed at churches and in Council chambers, made newspaper headlines and led to her introduction to trailblazing Council members Augusta Clark and Marian Tasco, leaders of the Black political organization called the Northwest Coalition.

Tasco in particular took Parker under her wings, and offered her internships starting in high school.

Parker, who graduated from Lincoln University and has a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, spent one year as a teacher after college before joining Tasco’s staff full time and eventually becoming her top aide.

She ran for state representative in 2004 and served five terms in the General Assembly, where she became chair of Philadelphia’s delegation to Harrisburg. In that role, she worked with then-Mayor Michael A. Nutter and Council President Darrell L. Clarke to shepherd through tax legislation that helped Philadelphia navigate the great recession.

When Tasco decided not to run for reelection in 2015, Parker won her seat representing the 9th Council District, which includes parts of Northwest, North and Lower Northeast Philadelphia.

She was elected majority leader in January 2020 and worked closely with Clarke before resigning last year to run for mayor.

The establishment favorite

Parker’s mayoral campaign got off to a slow start amid doubts that a candidate who had never run for citywide office or faced a serious challenger in her legislative races could emerge from such a deep and crowded field.

She initially lagged in fundraising but worked behind the scenes to secure support from important political players. Her campaign began to take off in February after she won the endorsement of the Building Trades and Construction Council, a coalition of 30 construction industry unions that are some of the biggest spenders in Pennsylvania politics.

Weeks later, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union announced it was backing her, followed by a cascade of endorsements from Philadelphia Democrats, including Clarke; U.S. Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle; and State Sens. Sharif Street and Vince Hughes. The week before the election, Kenney told reporters that he had voted for Parker by mail, and Bob Brady, the chair of the Democratic City Committee, telegraphed that she was the favorite of party insiders despite not making an official endorsement.

Her campaign got a boost when fellow Northwest Coalition acolyte and former Councilmember Derek Green, who is also Black and had a similar message, dropped out of the race in April. Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez, another former Council member who ran for mayor this year, both endorsed Parker after suspending their campaigns.

But the most important moment in Parker’s campaign arguably happened a year before she entered the race. In November 2021, Ryan Boyer, a Parker ally who heads the Laborers District Council and is one of the most prominent Black labor leaders in Philadelphia, was elected leader of the Building Trades Council. He replaced John J. Dougherty, the longtime electricians union leader who was convicted earlier that year on federal bribery and honest services fraud charges.

An independent expenditure committee, or super PAC, that was funded primarily by the building trades spent hundreds of thousands to boost her profile and attack her opponents, running attack ads on Gym, Domb, and Brown in the closing days of the race. It provided critical financial assistance to a campaign that otherwise wouldn’t have had the means to keep up with Domb’s self-funding and the super PACs backing her other rivals.

But neither Parker nor any other candidate ever appeared to separate from the pack, and polls in the final days of the campaign showed a tight race with Parker in second or third.

On the campaign trail, Parker pledged to support small businesses in neighborhood commercial corridors, push for schools to stay open year-round with extended hours, and expand access to affordable housing.

To achieve those goals, Parker will have to work with an inexperienced Council, which has seen enormous turnover in the last few years and will have a new president after Clarke, who is retiring, leaves office in January.

What her supporters said

At the polls on Tuesday, William Anderson, 51, cast his vote for Parker in East Mount Airy. Gun violence was top of mind after his cousin’s mother was fatally shot in Strawberry Mansion early Sunday morning.

“The ads got to me,” said Anderson, who went into Tuesday undecided. “She said she had a plan to curb the violence.”

Zach Matthew, of South Philadelphia, also backed Parker, because he thought she was the candidate best able to balance racial justice and public safety. “I voted for her focus on supporting and maintaining Black and brown communities in Philadelphia,” said Matthew, who is 25. “And her focus on police reform and hiring more police officers to make more community based policing work.”

At Parker’s celebration party, Hanan Abdul-Hameed, 40, a mother of three from North Philadelphia, joined in the joyful scene.

Abdul-Hameed said that while she is biased toward Black female candidates, she was also enamored with Parker’s educational achievements — Parker is a first-generation graduate with degrees from Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania — and her track record as a lawmaker.

”She’s a Black woman. That’s No. 1. She’s highly educated. She’s been doing this work for a long time,” Abdul-Hameed said.

And after 99 male Philadelphia mayors, Abdul-Hameed said the city needs a woman to lead it.

”So many women have laid so much foundation and maybe we haven’t been able to reap as much benefit,” she said. “Women also carry a different type of passion.”

Staff writers Beatrice Forman, Jake Blumgart, Ximena Conde and Kristen Graham contributed to this article.