Philadelphia voters elect city’s first female mayor in historic vote

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(PHILADELPHIA) — Cherelle Parker is literally one in a hundred after being elected Philadelphia’s first female mayor.

In a historic vote, Parker became the City of Brotherly Love’s 100th mayor and the first woman elected to the office.

“Who is Cherelle Parker going to be? A get-it-done Philadelphian. A get-it-done mayor who won’t ever forget her deep roots,” Parker said in her acceptance speech Tuesday night. “I’m Philly-born, I’m Philly-bred, and I’ll be Philadelphian ’til I’m dead.”

The 51-year-old Parker, a former Philadelphia City Council member who faced a crowded field in May when she won the Democratic primary, trounced Republican David Oh, also a former city council member, garnering more than 74% of the vote.

Parker will succeed fellow Democrat Jim Kenney, who was barred from running for reelection after serving a legally mandated maximum of two terms.

“Congratulations to mayor-elect Cherelle Parker on this historic milestone in her extraordinary career of public service,” Kenney said in a statement. “I am proud to call Cherelle a friend and a colleague, and I look forward to working with her to ensure a smooth and successful transition that keeps our city’s progress on track.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, also congratulated Parker on her win, saying he’s already had informal conversations with the mayor-elect about what she wants to accomplish.

“In general, she ran a campaign on similar platforms to me, how we educate our children, to bring safety to our communities, and grow our economy,” Shapiro said in a statement. “And those are issues that I think we’re going to find a lot of common ground on.”

Parker, who was endorsed by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, also becomes the fourth African American to be elected mayor of Philadelphia, following Wilson Goode, John Street and Michael Nutter.

Considered a moderate Democrat, Parker campaigned for mayor on a promise of making the nation’s sixth-largest city the “safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation.”

Parker’s rise to the mayor’s office comes after she served on the Philadelphia City Council from 2015 to September 2022, when she resigned to launch her mayoral campaign, two years after she was elected the majority leader for Democrats on the city council.

During her Tuesday-night victory speech at the Sheet Metal Workers Hall in Philadelphia, Parker told supporters why she thought her campaign message resonated with a diverse group of voters.

“I would put to great use everything inside of me – my lived life experience, my professional experience, my academic preparation – that I would put all of it to great use and I would make Philadelphia the safest, the greenest big city in the nation with economic opportunity for all,” Parker said.

Born and raised in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Mount Airy, Parker is the child of a teenaged single mother who died when Parker was 11 years old. Parker was subsequently raised by her grandparents, James and Dorothy Parker.

Parker’s grandmother stood at her side during her victory speech, beaming with pride as Parker spoke of her modest upbringing.

“My grandmother collected welfare and subsidized food to take care of me,” said Parker, herself the mother of an 11-year-old son.

Parker said she wanted to speak out about her humble upbringing because “I needed people to know that my real-life lived experienced was closest to the people who are feeling the most pain right now in our city.”

Parker’s introduction to Philadelphia city politics came when she was a teenager. As a senior at Parkway High School in 1990, Parker won a citywide oratorical contest that came with a $1,000 cash prize and trip to Senegal and Morocco. As the contest winner, she was introduced to then-city council member Marian Tasco, who hired Parker as an intern.

Parker attended Lincoln University, a small private college in Philadelphia, where she graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in English education. She later earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

She briefly worked as a high school English teacher in Pleasantville, New Jersey, before returning to Philadelphia to work as a full-time staffer for Tasco. When Tasco decided in 2015 not to seek reelection to the Philadelphia City Council, Parker launched a successful campaign to succeed her old boss.

During her stint on the city council, Parker helped establish the “Philly First Home” program in 2019, which provided financial assistance to help first-time homeowners.

Parker first ran for public office, however, ten years earlier, in 2005 when she was 32 years old, becoming the youngest African American woman to win a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. During her decade as a state representative for Northwest Philadelphia’s 200th District, Parker initiated the Philadelphia Tax Fairness Act, a measure to collect delinquent property taxes that subsequently generated millions of dollars in funding for public schools. Additionally, Parker worked to pass a $2-per-pack cigarette tax that also generated more funding for Philadelphia public schools.

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