Cherelle Parker, a Democrat who has held office at the state and local level after first becoming involved in politics as a teenager, was elected Tuesday as Philadelphia’s 100th mayor, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
Voters were also choosing a new leader for Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh. The races will set the electoral stage for 2024, when the state will be a presidential battleground state, with candidates taking lessons about how Democrats see crime and the strength of progressives in local races. into the next election cycle.
Parker, 51, emerged from a crowded field of Democrats in the May primary and was heavily favored over Republican David Oh in the city, a Democratic stronghold. She will replace Democrat Jim Kenney, who was ineligible for reelection due to term limits.
She campaigned on a promise to make Philadelphia the “safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation that will provide access to economic opportunity for all.”
Parker, who served for 10 years as a state representative for northwest Philadelphia before her election to the city council in 2015, touted herself as a leader whose government experience would allow her to address gaping problems in the city.
“We can’t solve these problems alone,” she said in a previous interview. “We need federal, state and local government, along with the private sector and philanthropic communities, to help us address the public health and safety.”
Parker’s moderate message resonated with voters who are increasingly worried about public safety as well as quality-of-life issues, from faulty streetlights to potholes to trash collection.
“We will have a police department that is supported by the mayor that is the best, well-trained and is proactively engaged and woven into the fabric of our communities, along with mental health and behavioral health supports, along with social and human services and connection to employment opportunities and workforce development address and quality of life issues,” she said.
At Parker’s election night watch party, supporters hugged in celebration. Among them was Carolyn Mosley, 57, who said her main concerns going into the election were crime and taxes.
After meeting Parker at a church event earlier this year, she was “100% sold,” she said: “I believe that she can effectively change Philadelphia.”
“Her story reminds me of my story,” said Mosley, who is also a Black woman. “And I can see girls can emulate her.”
Across the state in western Pennsylvania, voters were choosing between progressive Democrat Sara Innamorato and Republican Joe Rockey for their next Allegheny County executive.
Innamorato, 37, is a former state lawmaker who resigned to pursue local office. Pushing to modernize county government and create a community-driven office, she campaigned on progressive policies like taking a public health approach to public safety, affordable and dignified housing and a revamped workforce. She also has invoked national issues such as abortion and voting rights that can be protected at the local level.
Rockey, 59, is a retired chief risk officer for PNC bank who has touted his business expertise as giving him the ability to manage the budget and workforce. He identified public safety, jobs and taxes as top concerns to voters and rejected letting specific ideologies drive decisions at the county executive level. He’s sought to appeal to moderate voters.
Though Allegheny County leans Democratic, a Republican was narrowly elected to the position when it was first created in 1999.
Voters in the county were also deciding between a 25-year incumbent and the county’s chief public defender in a race for district attorney that is a rematch from the May Democratic primary, in which Matt Dugan defeated longtime incumbent Steve Zappala. After a late campaign, Zappala received enough write-in votes in the Republican primary to run as that party’s nominee in the general election.
Dugan, 44, has called for reform of the office and pushed for new leadership. He emphasized diverting low-level, nonviolent offenders to mental health and substance abuse programs rather than cycle them through the criminal justice system. He said that would let prosecutors focus on violent crimes and also help break the cycle of recidivism.
Zappala has criticized those proposals, highlighting his record and career in the office and arguing in favor of prosecuting low-level crimes so they don’t spiral out of control. He said his opponent offers only “empty promises, empty assurances.”
Editor’s note: Lead image update, story update with details from Parker's Election Night watch party and comment from supporter.