24 May Cherelle Parker Beats the Odds
By Jenice Armstrong, The Philadelphia Inquirer
I was chatting on the phone with a girlfriend and monitoring the election results Tuesday night when my husband rushed into the room saying, “Did you hear? Cherelle Parker won.”
He need not have bothered.
I was already celebrating. Parker hadn’t been my first choice for mayor. Still, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that the 100th mayor of the city of Philadelphia will most likely be a woman.
A Black one at that.
For far too long, women, particularly those of color, have been vastly underrepresented in the highest levels of government not only in Pennsylvania but nationwide. Women have made inroads, most notably with the election of Vice President Kamala Harris, but we are still nowhere near parity.
What’s more, Parker’s rise bucks so many negative stereotypes of Black women that people assume should hold us back.
Life for Cherelle Parker “ain’t been no crystal stair,” as she likes to say — a reference to a poem by Langston Hughes, her son’s namesake. She was born to a single, teenage girl, raised by grandparents, and later became a single mother herself. But she still managed to win elections to become a state representative and City Council member. Langston is only 10, and his mom is about to become mayor of one of the largest cities in the country.
Her family was on welfare growing up. Parker was educated in Philly public schools before attending Lincoln University, a historically Black college. She makes less money than all the other serious Democratic mayoral candidates. She lives in East Mount Airy, not Center City.
Yet, on Tuesday night, she won the Democratic nomination handily, in a race many had predicted would be close. It wasn’t.
As I watched the results come in Tuesday night, instead of feeling disappointed that my first choice didn’t win, I was thrilled.
Even though I had nothing to do with Parker’s campaign, I felt proud. I wished I were with her campaign staffers and supporters dancing to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and celebrating her historic win.
Granted, Parker is an establishment candidate, and may not have been the best choice to effectuate the kind of change Philly so desperately needs. But the city is a mess right now, and a succession of 99 male mayors helped make it that way. Let’s see what a woman will do.
It can’t possibly be worse than what passed for leadership during certain moments in Mayor Jim Kenney’s era. After two cops were shot last July 4th, he told reporters that he looked forward to leaving office.
Parker called his comments “asinine” and said she told him, “If you can feel this way, imagine how Philadelphians who don’t have the ability to check out feel on a daily basis.”
Once Parker assumes office, she will join the esteemed ranks of Black female mayors who have run major cities around the country, such as Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., and former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Some of these female leaders have been successful; others, including former Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, not so much. But they should be judged like their male counterparts: All mayors have wins and losses, and a Parker administration will be no different.
People in this city wanted a tough-on-crime candidate, and that’s what they got.
Parker’s plan to hire an additional 300 police officers is a good one. What’s unclear is where she will find enough qualified applicants interested in being cops. Philadelphia police officers are leaving faster than they can be replaced.
Parker supports what she describes as “constitutional stop-and-frisk.” This is where she makes me nervous. This kind of aggressive policing tactic is ripe for abuse.
In a recent column, I wrote about spending a day going from one end of Broad Street to another — Olney to the sports stadiums — talking to people about the election.
Practically everyone I spoke with complained about the same thing: there are too many guns on the street. The city needs to do more to stop the gun crisis. Would-be shooters shouldn’t be wearing black ski masks to conceal their identity. They worry less about individual civil liberties than being stuck up or catching a stray bullet.
I suspect that some of the people I interviewed hail from “middle neighborhoods,” as Parker calls them — proud, working-class areas — which largely voted for her.
As a result, the proverbial glass ceiling in City Hall is about to be shattered into millions of shards, and I’m thrilled. Not so much for her, but for the girls and women her leadership will inspire. I can’t stress enough how much representation matters. That’s why on election night, I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
Parker may not have been given a crystal stair, but she’s still climbing. And she’s doing it in high heels.