In her long and passionate victory speech Tuesday night, Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker hit on all the major themes of her history-making campaign, such as her personal story, her plan for year-round schooling, and her desire to make Philadelphia the “safest, cleanest, greenest city.”
But then she said a lot more.
Joined on the stage of the sheet metal workers union hall by her family, friends, aides, and dozens of elected officials, Parker shared stories from behind the scenes of her campaign, addressed difficult moments in her past that she usually omits from her stump speech, and gave some strong hints about how she plans to govern.
Like many politicians, Parker has a tendency to speak in a sort of code. Here are some notable lines from her speech and the context around them:
Philadelphia’s political factions
If anybody thinks that they’re going to use those antiquated, outdated, territorial, tribal-warfare strategies to divide and conquer us, it’s not just not going to work, but whenever I see it, I need you to know I’m going to call it out and say it out loud. I really am.
Parker discussing tensions between Philadelphia’s political families
An important dynamic in Philadelphia politics is the relationship between the various regional political organizations that wield significant influence over elections in specific corners of the city.
The power of those groups have faded somewhat over time, but they remain relevant. Parker, for instance, got her start in the Northwest Coalition, and she was essentially unchallenged in her elections as a state representative, City Council member, and 50th Ward Democratic leader thanks to the group’s dominance in parts of Northwest Philadelphia.
Rivalries and alliances come and go between the groups, and Parker’s comment about tribal warfare made clear that she is aware of the potential for opposition from politicians in one of the other groups — and wants to squash it.
The biggest potential trouble spot for Parker going forward is likely her relationship with the South- and Southwest-based group founded by the late Hardy Williams and led by his son, State Sen. Tony Williams. The elected officials from that group, including Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, did not endorse her during the Democratic primary despite her winning the support of Black politicians in almost every other part of the city.
The next City Council president
Speaking of Johnson …
Are you here, Councilmember [Kenyatta Johnson]? I think you should come stand next to me while I’m talking about this part. … I know it makes for good theater, I will call it, to see a City Council and a mayor not get together, not be able to move this city forward by working in a collaborative way. But if it’s gods will, we are not going to use that as our strategy, we will not let divide-and-conquer be the tool that people use to stop us from working together.
Parker talking about the likely next Council president, Kenyatta Johnson
Parker’s relationship with him will be a key factor in whether she has a successful administration. She doesn’t need to look too far into the past to see how a recalcitrant Council can stymie a mayor’s ambitions.
Former Mayor Michael A. Nutter saw his relationship with Council sour so much under Clarke that by the end of his second term he could not convince a single member to introduce legislation on a major proposal of his, the privatization of Philadelphia Gas Works. That episode provided plenty of “theater,” as Parker put it.
Parker is sending the message early that she is focused on avoiding a similar relationship.
Being a divorced mom
Come on over here, sugar, because I’ve got to do this out loud. My former husband and I are divorced. Guess what? Guess what? We work hard to coparent this prince. We coparent this prince. … Two adults can acknowledge that it may not have worked out. but you can still work together to love and raise your child.
Parker referring to her ex-husband, Ben Mullins
Parker’s ex-husband Ben Mullins appeared in a television ad with her, but she rarely mentioned him on the campaign trail.
So it was surprising Tuesday night when she brought him to the center of the stage to discuss their post-marriage relationship and their co-parenting of their 11-year-old son, Langston.
It was a heart-warming moment, and it showed that Parker was feeling comfortable now that the campaign had ended.
Mullins is a board member of the operating engineers union of the Building and Construction Trades Council, which provided critical financial support for Parker’s campaign in the primary.
An endorsement and a ‘lie’
We got a call about some people we had been counting on who told us, ‘As soon as you resign from Council [to run for mayor], we’ll know you’re serious, and once we know you’re serious, we’ll be all in. We’ll help to finance you. And we’ll endorse you.’ … This is politics. I’m jaded. And now you know why? Because people lie. Next thing you know, I’m looking at the television screen and the same people that I thought were going to be endorsing me and financing me — they took the bag.
Parker saying she was deceived about a major endorsement
Parker told a story during the speech about being promised an important endorsement, only to have it go to one of her rivals in the Democratic primary.
She didn’t name names, and may have combined details from a few episodes early in the campaign. But she appeared to be referring primarily to the endorsement that Jeff Brown received early in the race from the largest union for city workers, District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The union represents thousands of blue-collar city employees, and its endorsement of Brown — a grocery store proprietor and first-time candidate — provided him with needed legitimacy. It came as a shock, and Parker, who had worked with the union for years, felt jilted.
D.C. 33 President Ernest Garrett said in an interview Wednesday that the union followed its standard endorsement process, with the heads of the various locals voting to endorse Brown. He said he is not aware of anyone at the union who made promises to Parker prior to that vote and noted that they backed her campaign once she won the Democratic nomination.
“It was nobody in District Council 33 that I know of,” he said.
Later in the race, two locals within D.C. 33 broke ranks with the rest of the union to endorse Parker, a dramatic twist in the race as Brown’s campaign was imploding and Parker’s was gaining steam.
Parker brought up the story to illustrate the perseverance of her campaign staff during the early days of her mayoral bid when they had to scrap for donations and endorsements. But it also revealed a dynamic that could become relevant when her administration negotiates with the union next year over its next contract.
If anybody is interested in talking to me about public education and you’re trying to pit traditional publics against charters — don’t do it. I’m not the person to have that conversation with.
Parker discussing charter schools
With public safety concerns dominating the mayor’s race, education policy was not a hotly debated issue on the campaign trail this year.
That could become significant because Parker appears likely to take the school district in a different direction than Kenney, who worked closely with the teachers union and whose school board appointees helped slow the growth of charter schools in the city.
Although Parker’s comment is on its face neutral when it comes to the debate over the merits of charter schools and traditional public schools, it is exactly what charter advocates would like to hear from the next mayor. She has also referred to wanting more “quality seats” no matter what type of school they are in, another line favored by charter advocates.