Cherelle L. Parker is inaugurated as the first female mayor in Philadelphia history [The Philly Inquirer]

[Originally posted by the Philly Inquirer Jan. 2, 2023]

For the first time in its 342-year history, Philadelphia is being led by a woman.

Cherelle L. Parker, the former state lawmaker and City Council member who was the protégé of trailblazing Black female politicians, was inaugurated as the 100th mayor of Philadelphia Tuesday.

Parker, 51, a West Oak Lane native who overcame a childhood marked by tragedy, built her political image around uplifting the middle class and has pledged to make Philadelphia the “safest, cleanest, greenest city in America, with economic opportunity for all.” A centrist Democrat, Parker has promised to curtail crime, introduce year-round school, and spur small-business growth.

Sworn in on a Bible held by her 11-year-old son, Langston Mullins, Parker formally took the oath of office in a packed concert hall at the Met Philadelphia, a historic opera house and North Broad Street landmark. The oath was administered by Marcia L. Fudge, the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development.

Moments later, Parker delivered an energetic and free-flowing hour-long inaugural address, during which she retold parts of her personal and political upbringing, named women in government who came before her, and thanked the city “for believing in me and my vision for the future of our city.”

“There will no longer be a tale of two cities in Philadelphia,” Parker said. “We are going to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We are going to put people on a path to self-sufficiency.”

It has been decades since a mayor took over the city at such a precarious moment.

Emerging from the turmoil of the global pandemic and the worst gun violence crisis in city history, Philadelphia remains the poorest big city in America, and a majority of residents are most concerned about crime and believe the city is on the wrong track. Parker takes charge during a presidential election year in which Philadelphia, a deep-blue enclave of 1.6 million people in a critical swing state, could prove pivotal to the outcome.

The state of the city and the national attention it is likely to attract also presents an opportunity for Parker, a self-proclaimed cheerleader for the city and a commanding orator whose public image marks a shift from the considerably more subdued Mayor Jim Kenney.

The outgoing mayor, who was barred under city law from seeking a third term, attended the inauguration ceremony alongside former Mayors W. Wilson Goode Sr. and John F. Street.

During her speech, Parker led the crowd of more than 3,000 people in a chant of “one Philly” and nodded to a “renewed sense of energy” in the city.

“People have said to me, ‘Cherelle, we feel something in the city of Philadelphia that we haven’t felt in a very, very, very long time,” she said.

Parker lays out her vision for the city

While Parker has pledged a new day for Philadelphia, she has signaled that her administration may not be a sharp turn from Kenney’s. She has retained some top officials from his administration and said she supports his signature achievements, including his tax on sweetened beverages that helped fund free pre-kindergarten for thousands of children and improvements to parks and recreation centers.

But Parker, who has rejected some progressive policy-making as disconnected from Black communities, is likely to take a different approach to public safety after winning a bitterly contested Democratic primary with a tough-on-crime message.

She embraced controversial tactics such as stop-and-frisk, the use of which dropped precipitously under Kenney’s administration. She signed an executive order shortly after her inauguration declaring a public safety emergency, a move that Kenney resisted.

Parker’s crime plan hinges on hiring 300 more police officers who will patrol the city on foot and bike, and said she will end the open-air drug market in Kensington, the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis.

“I want the world to know that I am fully committed to ending this sense of lawlessness and bringing order back to our city and a sense of lawfulness,” Parker said in her inaugural address. “We are going to use a holistic approach to end crime in our city, particularly the quality-of-life crimes that we have seen increase.”

She blended her public safety vision with a vow of zero tolerance for abuse by police and a promise to mend strained relationships between officers and communities, providing a blueprint for Democrats nationally as they attempt to assuage concerns that the party is soft on crime.

Parker officially became mayor on Monday, and she took the oath of office in private. The public swearing-in ceremony was delayed a day to avoid conflicting with the annual Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day.

On Tuesday morning, Parker’s office released a 100-Day Action Plan to guide the beginning of her administration that included plans to address quality-of-life concerns and eliminate unnecessary business licenses and permits.

Many parts of the action plan were commitments to develop more specific policies, rather than actionable items. The plan to cut licenses, for instance, did not include any examples but instead called on city departments to catalog licenses they oversee within 90 days as part of a new “PHL Open for Business” initiative.

The plan also calls for the creation of a Working Group on Full-Day and Year-Round Schooling, which will “develop a comprehensive strategy” to implement that key Parker campaign promise.

In addition, the document calls on the Department of Planning and Development to work toward creating “affordable luxury” opportunities, described as “housing for renters and homeowners with high-quality finishes for low- and moderate-income families.”

A new era in Philadelphia leadership

Parker took the helm the same day Council elected Kenyatta Johnson — who served alongside Parker in both City Hall and in the state capital — its new Council president after 12 years under outgoing Council President Darrell L. Clarke.

Their elevation marks a generational shift in City Hall. Both Parker and Johnson, 50, were born in the 1970s, making them the first members of Generation X to hold the city’s top two offices. All previous Philly mayors and Council presidents were born in the 1950s or earlier.

Parker has projected unity with Johnson by pledging a strong working relationship with him and City Council, which will be key to advancing her agenda and legislative priorities. After she was sworn in Parker stood on stage with Johnson, their hands raised together in the air.

Johnson pledged to work with Parker on her agenda, acknowledging that “at times, my colleagues and I may disagree with Mayor Parker on important issues facing our city.”

“However, disagreements and compromise are a natural part of the legislative process,” he said. “I recognize that this moment in the history of Philadelphia is too important to squander it on the politics of personalities and personal agendas.”

A bevy of elected officials attended the inauguration ceremony, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, U.S. Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle, and a host of state and local lawmakers.

Parker is the first mayor in decades to have experience as an elected official in both state and local government, a point she emphasized often while campaigning, saying she has the “intergovernmental experience” necessary to secure support for the city from Harrisburg and Washington.

Among the officials in the room Tuesday was former City Councilmember Marian B. Tasco, a legendary figure in Philadelphia politics who gave Parker her first full-time job as a staff member in City Hall. Parker, who attended Lincoln University and holds a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, also worked as an English teacher for one year after college.

She then joined Tasco’s Council office and rose through the ranks and became a fixture of the powerful Northwest Coalition, going on to serve five terms as a representative in the state House and chairing the Philadelphia delegation.

After Tasco retired in 2015, Parker was elected to replace her mentor and represented the 9th District, which includes parts of Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia. She resigned in 2022 to launch her mayoral bid.

She said Tuesday afternoon during a news conference in the Mayor’s Office that the weight of the moment was not lost on her.

“I’m numb right now,” she said. “But what I’m extremely mindful and cognizant of are the number of little girls and boys that I’ve seen today who grabbed me and wanted to take a picture with me, who come from neighborhoods and places where they probably never thought somebody like them could ever do something like this.”

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