Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker just picked up a major labor endorsement from the building trades

It remains to be seen whether the endorsement will mean as much for Parker as it did for Mayor Jim Kenney in 2015, but Parker called it a "game-changing" moment for her campaign.

Former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker accepts the endorsement of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council at a news conference in Northeast Philadelphia.
Former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker accepts the endorsement of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council at a news conference in Northeast Philadelphia.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Building Trades Council, a coalition of more than 30 construction unions that played a major role in electing Mayor Jim Kenney, has endorsed former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker to be his successor, a decision that Parker described as a “game-changing” moment in this year’s wide-open mayor’s race.

Ryan Boyer, who leads the council, acknowledged that Parker is at the moment not a front-runner in the race to win the Democratic nomination. But he vowed to dedicate the trades’ significant manpower and financial resources to her candidacy.

“It’d be very easy for us to just take a poll, and we get on the so-called front-runner,” Boyer said Wednesday at a news conference outside the council’s Northeast Philadelphia headquarters. “But these building trades have never been a thermometer, where we measure stuff. We’re a thermostat, and we’re going to turn it up.”

» READ MORE: Ryan Boyer becomes first Black leader of Building Trades Council after John Dougherty’s conviction

The building trades in 2015 went to the mat for Kenney, and spent millions to boost him through independent expenditure committees known as “super PACs.”

But it remains to be seen whether the endorsement will mean as much for Parker as it did for Kenney. She faces a much larger field of viable competitors than he did, and some of her rivals have already secured significant endorsements from other unions.

It’s also an open question as to whether the building trades will stay as united and spend as much money on the mayoral race under Boyer as they did under his predecessor, John J. Dougherty, who resigned in 2021 after being convicted on federal bribery charges.

Dougherty, known as “Johnny Doc,” led the electricians union, which was the biggest spender in city and state politics for years during his tenure.

This year’s race has so far been defined by TV ads for candidates Allan Domb and Jeff Brown, who are wealthy businessmen, and the coalescing of the city’s progressive movement around former Councilmember Helen Gym.

But Parker on Wednesday said she was confident the coveted trades endorsement will shake things up.

“When the building trades endorse and they commit their funds, candidates win,” Parker said. “I’m ready to rumble, building trades. I’ve been waiting for this.”

She pledged to help build a union apprenticeship program with the Philadelphia School District and to construct thousands of new units of affordable housing with union workers.

Aren Platt, a senior strategist for Parker’s campaign, said Wednesday’s endorsement means that Parker has become the first Black woman to be a top-tier candidate for Philadelphia mayor.

“The history-making nature of today, of this coming-together, shouldn’t be discarded,” he said.

Boyer hails from the politically powerful Laborers District Council, which includes some of the only majority-Black unions in the trades council, and is the first Black leader of the trades council.

The building trades have long been criticized for lacking diversity, and Boyer’s laborers have earned added clout as a nexus between the big-spending trades unions and Philadelphia’s Black elected officials.

The changing of the guard was good news for Parker, who has a strong relationship with Boyer. But it opened up the question of whether Dougherty’s old union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, will commit the same level of resources to her as it did Kenney.

Local 98 was one of two trades unions that abstained from the otherwise unanimous vote to endorse Parker, said Frank Keel, spokesperson for the council. The other was the stagehands, Local 8 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Boyer said the council invited all of the candidates for interviews before settling on three finalists: Parker, former Councilmember Domb, and former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. While some of the other unions initially preferred other candidates, they unified for their vote to back Parker, a former state representative who lives in East Mount Airy.

The electricians union isn’t the only big spender that backed Kenney but is so far not in line with the council’s endorsement of Parker.

The New Jersey-based Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, which gave $750,000 to a $1.8 million trades-backed super PAC boosting Kenney in 2015, is not part of the Philadelphia council and has not made an endorsement this year.

“Our process to make the best decision on behalf of our membership is still ongoing,” carpenters spokesperson Frank Mahoney said.

The carpenters union, which created a new federal super PAC in 2021, gave $25,000 in August to a super PAC supporting Brown and $25,000 to a pro-Parker super PAC in December.

Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.