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Cherelle Parker Wins Philly Primary, Virtually Guaranteed To Become Next Mayor

In Philly's hotly contested mayoral race, one that came down to the wire in a contest with no clear favorites, it all came down to who you know.

Former Councilmember at large Cherelle Parker won the Democratic Party’s nomination and is all but assured to be elected in November as Philadelphia’s 100th mayor — the first woman to do so in city history, dating back to the 1600s. She rode a wave of endorsements from elected officials, ward committees and unions.


In the latter group, perhaps no labor bloc was more impactful than the Building Trades Council, also considered a key factor in Mayor Jim Kenney's 2015 win.

"I am proud that as mayor of this city, I would have the wherewithal to bring the building trades along with the development community to the table to figure out a way to get to yes," Parker told Bisnow in a May 2 interview. "It’s extremely important to have a mayor and a leader who can be an honest broker between the industry and the people and groups that make up the labor.”

Parker didn't give a traditional victory speech.

As the heavy favorite, in the months before Parker is likely inaugurated Jan. 3, her time will be divided between some further campaigning and preparing to replace Kenney in the mayor’s office. Choosing which of Kenney’s department heads and appointees to keep and which to replace will be a high priority.

“I don’t care about the way we’ve always done things," Parker told Bisnow in May. "My mind doesn’t work that way. How do we show Philadelphians that we’re putting their tax dollars at work for them, in ways they can see, touch and feel? You can’t do that while bringing along people who don’t share that vision. So we’d conduct national, state and local searches to bring along the best talent. And we will also look within, because there is overlooked talent within the city.”

The election was unusually open even in its last days, with five candidates polling neck-and-neck at the end of April. Local grocery magnate Jeff Brown fell away from the pack in the last two weeks, weighed down by his independent expenditure committee agreeing to sit out pending the outcome of an ethics lawsuit. The case, in which the Philadelphia Board of Ethics accused For A Better Philadelphia of illegally coordinating with Brown’s campaign, has yet to go to trial.

In the last month, the city’s progressive organizing groups coalesced around Helen Gym, bolstered by support from national political icons Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The two attended a rally for Gym on Sunday at Franklin Music Hall — a venue more likely to host a rock concert and, with over 1,000 attendees, an atmosphere befitting one.

The outsized rally was a fitting climax to a campaign cycle that dwarfed previous citywide elections in several ways, with money the most prominent. It saw over $31M in campaign spending, by far the most for any mayoral election in Philly’s history, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports

Allan Domb spent millions of dollars from his personal fortune to lead all campaign spending, but business interests led by billionaire Jeffrey Yass and Philly’s real estate industry also sank large sums on negative advertising targeting Gym. Industry opposition stemmed from the belief that Gym preferred to make grand political gestures rather than engage with businesses and local stakeholders, HAPCO Philadelphia President Greg Wertman and Building Industry Association Vice President Mo Rushdy told Bisnow in early May.

Former Philadelphia City Councilmember at large and 2023 Democratic mayoral candidate Helen Gym.

“I think you have two to three candidates that would be great mayors,” Rushdy said. “There’s a specific candidate that is just putting out a bunch of rhetoric, and that candidate sounds very good, speaks amazingly great, but really has not, to date, substantiated any kind of plan on how they’re going to do it. And that is a problem for me; that’s my pet peeve, is rhetoric politics.”

The lack of separation between candidates went beyond how voters and interest groups saw them. In interviews with Bisnow, all five candidates still alive in the race expressed similar priorities and broad visions, with differences primarily residing in their more detailed plans, as well as their prior records.

universal theme among the candidates was dissatisfaction with the power vacuum created in the mayor’s office by Kenney’s apparent retreat from the spotlight in his second term. Over the past four years, Philadelphia City Council consolidated power, especially over zoning and land use decisions — only for more than half of its members to leave office in the past year. 

One such district councilmember who made heavy use of councilmanic prerogative in controlling development was Parker. Though she was unapologetic about her use of the tradition, Parker also denied that she will use her seat to preserve the status quo.

“There is a different level of influence and convening and the bully pulpit that you have an advantage that isn’t available to those in the legislative branch, and there’s no one more prepared to wield the power of this process and to change course of the city,” Parker said in her May interview. 

The city council also had its primary elections on Tuesday, though the incumbents and favorites in most district seats either ran unopposed or in lopsided races — even in District 5, where retiring Council President Darrell Clarke’s handpicked successor, Jeffery Young, is the only Democrat on the ballot. After a hotly contested open primary for the five Democratic at large seats, the question of who will replace Clarke in charge of city council looms just as large for the future of the city as how Parker will perform as mayor.