Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Guide: Cherelle Parker

The Power in the Northwest

Cherelle Parker / Photograph by Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

This profile of Cherelle Parker is part of our Ultimate Voter’s Guide to the 2023 Philadelphia Mayoral Race. For the full guide and to read more profiles, go here.

Born and raised in West Oak Lane, not far from her current Mount Airy home, Cherelle Parker, 50, checks a lot of boxes: the youngest Black woman elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; a two-term City Councilmember who got her start in politics at 17 as protégé to seven-termer Marian Tasco; a former English teacher with a soft spot (and a plan) for the city’s education system. “If I were writing a movie with City Hall as the backdrop,” Joseph Hill — senior principal of public strategies for Cozen O’Connor — says, “she’d be right out of central casting for the part of mayor.”

In seven years repping the 9th Council District, Parker has tucked a bunch of wins under her belt, from increased funding for public schools to initiatives dedicated to stabilizing neighborhoods and supporting homeowners. Ten years in Harrisburg gave her practice getting votes and working across the political spectrum. And while more progressive voters might be out of her reach — safe injection sites are a hard no for Parker; she’s also an advocate for more police spending and reinstating stop-and-frisk — her district in the Northwest consistently has enthusiastic voter turnout, and she’s won the backing of kingmaker Tasco and the coveted endorsement from the Building & Construction Trades Council, which helped bankroll Mayor Kenney’s 2015 win.

Her strategy so far has been pretty low-profile, seemingly by design. “Philadelphia doesn’t need a show horse right now,” she says. “We need a workhorse, a convener, a get-it-done-Democrat. We don’t need an ideologue; we need someone who can bring people from all walks of life together.”

Indeed, she’s got a rep as a get-it-done-Democrat, someone who excels at the inside game. But articulating a record of accomplishment that a voter can relate to is a different ballgame, as Larry Ceisler — longtime Philly political analyst and founder of public affairs strategy firm Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy — points out. “She’s done a lot for her district,” Joann Bell — director of the Philadelphia Government Office of lobbying firm Pugliese Associates — says, “but can you translate that across the city?”

Candidate Crib Sheet

Latest Gig
City Councilmember, 9th District

Key Advantages

  • Home field. The powerful Northwest voting bloc is Parker’s turf.
  • Years spent building “long-established relationships with almost every major institution in the city,” says Hill.
  • A dynamic persona and commanding presence.

Highlight Reel

  • Required Philly developers to outline potential impacts of projects; got money for Philly commercial-corridor cleaning; increased the realty transfer tax to pay for the city’s home-repair programs.
  • Successfully pushed legislation like Philly’s Tax Fairness package and the $2.3 billion Transportation Bill to repair and maintain the state’s roads, bridges and mass transit.

Achilles’ Heels

  • After resigning from Council, Parker — not one of the millionaire candidates, she’s noted — registered as a Harrisburg lobbyist, opening her up to critiques of impropriety.
  • Progressives don’t like her stance on upping police spending and presence.
  • She’s been flagged as a front-runner, but Hill says, “A splintered field with other establishment candidates peeling key constituencies and votes away weakens her hand.”

Notable Endorsements
The Ryan Boyer-led Building & Construction Trades Council (first time endorsing a female candidate); former Councilmembers Marian Tasco and Bill Greenlee; SEIU Local 32BJ; IBEW Local 98; EASRCC Carpenters Union; Communication Workers of America; AFSCME Local 1739; AFSCME Local 427; Philadelphia National Organization of Women; State Senator and head of the state Democratic party Sharif Street; State Senators Jimmy Dillon, Vincent Hughes and Christine Tartaglione; Congressmembers Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle; former State Senator Shirley Kitchen; State Reps Donna Bullock, Stephen Kinsey, Angel Cruz, Darisha Parker and Jose Giral, among others; the Philadelphia Black Clergy; City Council President Darrell Clarke; former Councilmember Derek Green, who dropped out of the race for mayor; at least 35 wards across the city; the Black Clergy of Philadelphia; City Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, Mike Driscoll, Anthony Phillips, and Quetcy Lozada.

Three Big Questions

Who and what is holding Philly back right now, and what will you do about it?

PARKER: The only thing holding Philadelphia back now is the need for bold leadership that understands the importance of coalition- and consensus-building. I did not know that my 10 years in Harrisburg would become the greatest professional development I could have experienced in this world of public administration. But it was there that I ended up being the chief negotiator for the city of Philadelphia — negotiating significant legislative initiatives that, quite frankly, help to keep our city on sound fiscal footing.

What is your number one priority as mayor?

Public safety. When other people were paralyzed into inaction for fear of being attacked by the keyboard warriors on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media vehicles, I introduced a comprehensive neighborhood safety and community policing plan. It called for investment in forensics, investment in better lighting and cleaning of commercial corridors, support for behavioral health, a co-responder model, better training, support with recruitment, but also zero tolerance for any misuse and abuse of authority by law enforcement.

It also called for adding 300 additional police officers on the streets of Philadelphia, proactively engaging in community policing. I introduced this plan, one, while I had a seat at the table, and two, long before I would declare that I was running for mayor — before there was any mayoral poll telling me public safety was the number one priority in the hearts and minds of Philadelphians. No. I took a year listening to residents and meeting with business owners and other stakeholders in person and virtually. I heard how it was impacting our pride, our hope, our dignity. People living in fear in our city is having a negative impact. Crime and gun violence are having a negative economic impact on our city.

I spent the political capital and had the courage to say out loud that I dared anyone to try to put me in a box, to tell me that I can’t have both police reform and proactive community policing, where those officers are not just responding to 911 but are walking the beat, riding the bikes, getting to know and build trust with the communities they’re sworn to protect and serve as guardians and not warriors.

I’m a mother of a 10-year-old Black boy who has locs and who is chocolate like his mother. I can’t take my race on or off when I go into a room. But you aren’t going to tell me that I can’t say our communities, everybody’s communities, matter. And we’re going to have police reform at the same time.

How do you bring people/power in this city together and build consensus in order to get things done?

Bold leadership, consensus-building — it’s not seen on social media. It’s not seen on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, because it’s about having respect for people — even people who agree to disagree with you — figuring out what’s important to them, bringing everyone to the table, and not demeaning anybody.

You have to bring people together. I have a track record of having already done it. Other people are promising that they can do it, but Cherelle Parker has demonstrated already, on multiple occasions, that I am the only one who brings the intergovernmental experience necessary to not just leverage resources at the local, state and federal level, but to reach much-needed compromise to address bigger issues.

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Published as “Cherelle Parker: The Power in the Northwest” in the April 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.