In addition to making history by putting a Black woman on the Democratic ticket for mayor, Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary election showed that the Democratic City Committee might not be as dead as some thought.
ABOVE PHOTO: A banner along Spring Garden Street reminds citizens it is Election Day, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Philadelphia. Voters are casting ballots for mayor, commissioner, city controller, register of wills, sheriff, at-large Council, and district Council as well as state-wide and city judicial races and ballot issues. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
By Denise Clay-Murray
By Election Day, Cherelle Parker had dealt with 11 opponents, over 60 candidate forums, lots and lots of campaign appearances, allergies brought on by the pollen that Philadelphia’s sporadic weather has wrought, and emergency surgery on a tooth that she had delayed treating until she couldn’t anymore.
But by the end of Election Night, the former Councilmember was in a hospital getting treatment for her tooth as the Democratic candidate for Philadelphia’s 100th Mayor.
While she couldn’t celebrate the victory with her supporters at her Election Night party at the Laborers Local 332 building on Broad Street, the campaign issued a statement acknowledging the victory.
“Cherelle Parker is thrilled to have received the trust and confidence of so many Philadelphians,” the statement said. “Cherelle looks forward to celebrating with all of her friends and supporters and thanks all of Philadelphia for making history tonight!”
Former Controller Rebecca Rhynhart came in second and former Councilmember Helen Gym came in third in the contest.
In her concession speech, Gym praised her team for coming together around their core ideas and not backing down despite the historic amount of money being spent in this race.
ABOVE PHOTO: Republican mayoral candidate David Oh easily won his primary on Tuesday night — running unopposed. Oh faces Democrat Cherelle Parker in November in the race to become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor. Should he win, Oh would become the first Asian American mayor in the city’s history.
Jared Piper/PHL Council
“This campaign was always bigger than an election,” she said. “Our fight was never about one leader. It was always about our values, our vision, and our belief in each other. And we came together around the things that matter most: The right to fully funded public schools and dignity at work. Housing as a human right. A safe city for all. We never backed down from what we believed in. We refused to leave each other behind. When a rightwing billionaire and special interests came for us and made this the most expensive mayoral race in history, we left it all on the field.”
Former City Councilmember Allan Domb came in fourth in the race, while grocer and entrepreneur Jeff Brown came in fifth. Both of their campaigns were mostly self-funded, which led to the so-called Millionaires Exemption being triggered in the race. More than $33 million had been spent on the race at press time.
Parker will be taking on former Republican City Councilmember David Oh, who easily won his mayoral primary on Tuesday night because he was running unopposed.
Expect a race that focuses almost solely on crime and public safety.
Much of Parker’s vote came from areas most impacted by the city’s gun violence problem. Among the things she proposed as part of her campaign was a community policing program she had put together while a member of City Council, hiring more police officers and utilizing what are often called “Terry stops,” named for the Supreme Court’s Terry v. Ohio decision which governs the police practice known as stop and frisk.
It also didn’t hurt that she had the full support of many of the city’s unions, most notably the Building Trades, and most of the city’s Black elected officials.
According to the Philadelphia City Commissioners’ website, about 272,193 — 26% — of the city’s 1,025,354 eligible voters let their voices be heard through the voting booth on Tuesday.
While the Democratic City Committee didn’t make any endorsements for mayor, it did make endorsements for City Council at Large races, and most of the organization’s candidates won.
On the Democratic side, incumbent Councilman Isaiah Thomas was the top vote getter, despite being number 29 on the ballot. He was followed by Council colleague Katherine Gilmore Richardson and two newcomers, former Commission on Human Relations director Rue Landau, and Philadelphia NOW president Nina Ahmad.
Should Landau and Ahmad make it onto Council, both would make history. Landau, who got one of the first same-sex marriage licenses in the city once the Supreme Court’s Obergfell decision was announced, would be Council’s first openly gay member. Ahmad, a native of Bangladesh, would become Council’s first South Asian member.
Councilmember Jim Harrity, who was elected via a special election late last year, was 5 percentage points ahead of Eryn Santamoor, former Chief of Staff for former Councilmember Domb as of press time.
Those who finally make it to the November ballot will take on Republicans Drew Murray, Frank Cristinzio, Jim Hasher, Gary Grisafi, and Mary Jane Kelly and Working Families Party candidates Nicholas O’Rourke and incumbent Councilmember Kendra Brooks.
Harrity’s race wasn’t the lone Council contest that’s too close to call. Despite declaring herself the victor at her Election Night party on Tuesday night, as of press time, the Associated Press is still calling 8th District Councilmember Cindy Bass’s race against challenger, Seth Anderson-Olberman, too close to call.
But most of the District Council races were decided early because many of them were uncontested. Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Jamie Gauthier, and Curtis Jones retained their seats.
Several of the Councilpersons who took office in special elections won four-year terms of their own Mike Driscoll, who was elected to the 6th District seat in a special election following the conviction of Councilman Bobby Henon, retained his seat. Quetcy Lozada, who won the 7th District seat in a special election after her former boss, Maria Quinones Sanchez, resigned, defeated Andres Celin, a social worker and community organizer to retain her seat. Anthony Phillips, who became the 9th District Councilmember after Cherelle Parker left to run for mayor, defeated Yvette Young and James Williams to earn his four-year term.
In the 5th District, the seat currently occupied by outgoing Council President Darrell Clarke, Jay Young, a former Clarke aide, will be representing the district. Young was the lone survivor among the seven people who had wanted to vie for the seat, a group that included Clarke’s former Chief of Staff Curtis Wilkerson and Aissia Richardson, State Sen. Sharif Street’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
“To say I was surprised [about the way the ballot turned out] may be an understatement,” Clarke said while attending Congressman Dwight Evans’s annual Election Day luncheon. “[Young] was my intern, so I know Jay very well. I anticipate he’ll do a good job representing the citizens of the Fifth Councilmatic District.”
Since most of the challengers for this seat were eliminated through petition challenges in court, it was suggested by some that the timing of Clarke’s decision was at fault.
Clarke strongly disagreed with this.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “Everybody got their ballots at the first opportunity, so the statement made no sense. At the end of the day, there was a process. But in politics, all’s fair in love and war.”
Since none of these races have Republican challengers, they will officially become Councilmembers in November.
As of press time, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal and her challenger Michael Untemeyer were still waiting for results in a Democratic primary race that is still too close to call. Jackie Miles, a former deputy sheriff who is now the director of security for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, came in a distant third.
Bilal, who ousted Jewell Williams from the seat four years ago, has been the topic of discussion due to news reports regarding issues in her office ranging from the $7,000 spent on a party at Chickie’s and Pete’s in South Philadelphia to a former deputy’s federal arrest and indictment for selling guns, including one connected to the shooting death of a Roxborough High School football player. She blamed the reports on her decision to decrease the amount of Sheriff’s Sale ads to news organizations.
The winner will be taking on Mark Lavelle, who was the lone Republican in the primary, in the November general election.
Another row office incumbent whose fate is still undecided is Tracey Gordon, the current Register of Wills. John Sabatina, the Democratic City Committee’s endorsed candidate, has a slight lead over her at press time, which is why the race hasn’t been called. Gordon, who was not endorsed by the City Committee despite being an incumbent, has focused on tangled titles — what happens when a homeowner dies without a will and the house’s ownership is in question — during her term in office.
But her tenure has not been without controversy. Gordon is currently being sued by two of her former aides who say they were fired for not donating to her campaign.
Christy Brady got a full four-year term as the City’s new Controller. She had been appointed to the seat by Mayor Jim Kenney when Rebecca Rhynhart resigned to run for mayor, but was mandated by the City Charter to resign before she could run for the office herself.
The deadline to register to vote for the November 7 General Election is October 23.
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