Philadelphia Democrats on Tuesday will nominate Cherelle Parker to be the city’s next mayor, CNN projects, the 100th in its history and the first Black woman to hold the top job.
Parker, who had the support of influential unions and local elected leaders, will enter the general election as an overwhelming favorite in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1.
Parker will instantly emerge an important national political player among Democrats, led by President Joe Biden, who is counting on Philadelphia to deliver big turnout and heavy margins in statewide races like the coming contest for its 20 presidential electoral votes.
The long and historically expensive campaign, which at one point featured a dozen candidates, ultimately came down to a handful of contenders, with Parker claiming victory over former city council members Helen Gym and Allan Domb; former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart; and Jeff Brown, a city grocery store magnate.
Parker will face the only Republican in the race, former City Council member David Oh, in the fall.
This election, which has centered on education and public safety, will be viewed as a lost opportunity for progressives, who sought to flex their growing local electoral power by supporting Gym, a long-time activist who served on the city council from 2016 until resigning to run for mayor. She had the support of progressive movement leaders in Philadelphia and around the country. This past weekend, she was joined at a rally by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“Throughout this campaign, so many people who always felt like they had the right to run this city called our ideas too radical, too complicated and our dreams too big,” Gym said days ahead of the vote, which progressives were hoping would add to a winning streak in big city mayoral elections, following Karen Bass in Los Angeles, Michelle Wu in Boston and, most recently, Brandon Johnson in Chicago.
Gym’s campaign, though, was dealt a late blow by a storm of attack ads from a super PAC bankrolled by Republican donor Jeffrey Yass, who has spent roughly a million dollars on ads and mailers. (Yass also spent big against Democrat John Fetterman in his US Senate race with GOP nominee Mehmet Oz last year.)
Though Gym had the backing of grassroots liberal activist groups, larger organizations like the Working Families Party and the city’s teachers, municipal and hospitality workers unions, Parker also enjoyed the support of influential labor outfits. The powerful Philadelphia Building Trades Council has endorsed her, along with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, which represents school workers like bus drivers, among others.
US Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle as well as state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Sharif Street also backed Parker, who had the broad support of the city’s Black political establishment.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who is term-limited, did not officially endorsed Parker before the primary, but told reporters last week that he voted for her.
“I think she has the ability to lead the city forward,” Kenney said, “and honestly I think it’s time for a woman of color.”
She is proposing an education reform package that would keep schools open longer each day and all year-round. But she has drawn some backlash over her support for the use of “stop and frisk” tactics by police as part of their efforts to root out guns and gun violence, so long as the practice follows constitutional guidelines.
“It’s not an either-or,” Parker said in a debate. “You will be held accountable, we will also have reform, but we will use every tool in the toolbox to ensure that our city is safer and cleaner and greener.”
Rhynhart, meanwhile, likely split some of the more traditionally liberal vote with Gym in a race local leaders and analysts predicted come down to a few percentage points and could end with the eventual nominee needing as little as 25% of the primary vote.
The former city controller was endorsed by former Mayors Michael Nutter and John Street, along with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who ran the city for most of the 1990s. Rhynhart was also the choice of the editorial board of the city’s biggest paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Like others in the race, she has sought to mix criticism of the police with what she casts as a comprehensive plan, including boosted social services, to combat crime.
“We need compassion,” Rhynhart said recently when asked about public safety, “but we also need consequences.”
Gym, though the clear progressive torch-bearer, promised a robust approach to gun violence and crime prevention. She pledged to add police, but warned that vacancies in the force can’t be filled all at once.
“We are going to put more people out on the streets,” Gym told CNN. “Not all of them are going to be able to be police officers, but there’s going to be a larger cohort of people who are out there delivering public safety.”
Domb, another former council member, said he would bring together city, state and federal agencies to help craft a plan of action to fight violent crime and stem the flow of weapons into Philadelphia, which according to a city website counts more than 500 victims of gun violence this year, with 123 of the victims dying.
The police union, though, endorsed Jeff Brown, who also has the support of the city’s largest municipal workers union, AFSCME District Council 33.