From humble beginnings to mayor, Cherelle Parker opens a new chapter for Philly

As the city’s new mayor, Parker faces several challenges both unique to Philly and parallel to other cities.

Philadelphia Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker at WHYY.

Philadelphia Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker at WHYY. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Philadelphia is set to make history Tuesday, as the inauguration of the city’s 100th mayor gets underway. Cherelle Parker will be the first woman and the first Black woman to hold the post.

Born in Northwest Philadelphia to a single mother, Parker was orphaned at 11. She came from a humble background, a fact she made part of her campaign story.

“Because I wouldn’t allow any anybody else to attempt to weaponize my humble beginnings against me so before they could do it I made sure that I told you that I was born to a single teenage mother that I was raised by my grandparents, that my grandmother collected welfare and subsidized food to take care of me,” Parker told the crowd at her November victory party.

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When Parker was 17, she won a speech contest for her essay “The Power of Writing, Reading & Books.” This caught the attention of then-Philadelphia Councilmember Marian Tasco, another trailblazer who made it a mission to mentor women leaders. Tasco hired Parker as an intern.

Parker graduated from Lincoln University in 1994 before briefly teaching high school English in New Jersey. She returned to Philadelphia and politics the next year, going back to work for Tasco’s office.

Then, in 2005, Parker won a special election to fill an open seat for a North Philly representative, becoming the youngest Black woman ever elected to the state legislature. In 2015, Parker ran for her old boss’s seat on the Philadelphia City Council and won. She stepped down in 2022 to run for mayor.

As the city’s new mayor, Parker faces several challenges both unique to Philly and parallel to other cities. While gun violence rates are down since the end of the pandemic declaration, they were on an upward swing before the start of the COVID crisis, a trend that continued last year. To counter this, Parker’s platform has included a promise to add 300 police officers to the existing force of 6,000.

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More controversially, Parker proposed a new policy for police stops. Although she introduced legislation to prohibit stop-and-frisk policies while in City Council, she has called for the use of “Terry stops,” which, she says, require police to have more evidence pursuant to a stop than stop and frisk.

“It is a legal tool, a crime must be committed, or they must know that a crime is going to be committed,” she said on the campaign trail. “Terry stops are what I wholeheartedly embrace as a tool that law enforcement needs, to make the public safety of our city their number one priority.”

Critics, however, say that Terry stops — a term created after the 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio in which the Court determined police must have cause to stop someone — are no different from stop and frisk. In the end, it only matters how the police department implements the policy.

As mayor, Parker will also need to weigh in on a controversial $1.5 billion proposal to build a new Sixers arena near Chinatown. Residents and local advocates are concerned the stadium will impact a culturally significant area that dates back to the late 1800s. Parker has not indicated publicly whether or not she would support the initiative as mayor.


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