Philadelphia mayoral primary returned Democrats to familiar themes of crime, inequality

May 17, 2023, 11:13 AM

Supporters of Democratic candidate for mayor Cherelle Parker dance as early results come in at Park...

Supporters of Democratic candidate for mayor Cherelle Parker dance as early results come in at Parker's watch party at Laborers 332 in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

(Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Democrat Cherelle Parker turned back challenges from the left Tuesday to win Philadelphia’s mayoral primary, a contest that serves as the nation’s latest barometer of the mood of big cities in dealing with issues such as crime, poverty and inequality.

Her primary win in the heavily Democratic city puts Parker on track to become the first woman elected mayor of Philadelphia. It is the latest local election to represent a clash between moderates and progressives on concerns such as policing and education and to show the power of union support in big city politics.

In Chicago, Democratic Mayor Karen Bass wants to spend more than $1 billion to get unhoused people into shelter and treatment programs.

And in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Allegheny County’s top public defender, Matt Dugan, ran some 11 percentage points ahead of the 25-year incumbent district attorney, Stephen Zappala, in the Democratic primary. Dugan promised to eliminate cash bail and change a system “where justice depends on where you live or what you look like.” A late write-in effort by Republicans to nominate Zappala may have worked, setting up a possible November rematch.

Allegheny County voters also turned to state Rep. Sara Innamorato, a liberal who wants to improve policies at the jail as part of a “comprehensive public health approach to public safety,” as the Democratic nominee for county executive. Innamorato supports an end to high fines and fees for minor offenses, mandatory minimums and solitary confinement.

Parker’s mayoral win in Philadelphia, setting her up to likely be the city’s 100th mayor, was a disappointment to progressives who rallied around Helen Gym, who was backed by Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Parker, 50, who served for 10 years as a state representative for northwest Philadelphia before her election to the city council in 2015, asserted herself as a leader whose government experience would allow her to address gaping problems with public safety and quality of life in the nation’s sixth-largest city. She will go up against Republican David Oh in the Nov. 7 general election.

Parker emerged from a crowded field of five front-runner Democratic candidates vying to replace Democrat Jim Kenney, who is term-limited. She beat out other former city council members who resigned from their seats to throw their hats in the ring; a state representative; a former city controller and a political outsider businessman.

Parker pledged to “stop the sense of lawlessness that is plaguing our city” by putting hundreds more officers on the street to engage in community policing. Parker pushed for officers to use every legal tool, including stopping someone when they have “just cause and reasonable suspicion.”

She received support from members of the Philadelphia delegation in the House, as well as members of Congress. She was also backed by labor unions and a number of wards in the city, and Kenney said he had cast his ballot for her.

Innamorato in Allegheny County will face the lone Republican primary contender, Joseph Rockey, in the November general election.

“Allegheny County, I’m going to make one promise to you: I will build a team of leaders who will usher in the future of this region and build a more equitable and just county,” she said at a campaign event Tuesday, asking supporters to enjoy the victory and recharge. “We better get ready, because we have a lot of work to do.”

Our Revolution, a movement born during Sanders’ 2016 presidential race and now one of the largest progressive organizations in the country, had endorsed Innamorato — a win for the movement, even with its loss in the mayoral primary.


Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa in Philadelphia and reporter Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

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Philadelphia mayoral primary returned Democrats to familiar themes of crime, inequality