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Mayor Cherelle Parker’s formal inauguration is Tuesday, but Philadelphia’s 100th mayor has already been sworn in to close a potential gap in governance. Parker, born and raised in Philadelphia, is the first woman and the first Black woman to hold the office.
WHYY News is the first to report that Parker was privately sworn in on Monday, New Year’s Day, shortly after midnight, according to two city officials who were not authorized to speak on the record. The transition team did not alert the press nor provide any information, including photos, about the event before or after it occurred.
A quirk in the city charter may have necessitated the early ceremony. According to the charter, “All persons elected… shall, before entering upon the duties of their offices or employments, take an oath of office to support the Constitutions of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and this charter.”
However, the charter also declares that the mayor’s first term must start “on the first Monday of January following the mayor’s election.” With the first Monday being New Year’s Day, it likely wasn’t feasible to hold a full-scale inauguration and a formal swearing-in. As WHYY’s Billy Penn previously reported, there would have been a gap of about 36 hours between the end of outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney’s term and the start of Parker’s.
By holding an early swearing-in, the new administration closed that gap, reducing the risk of a power void. It also eliminated the legal question of whether Parker had the necessary authority to direct city agencies and officials should a public emergency arise.
Despite the wording in the city charter, city officials contended off the record that Parker became mayor on Monday immediately after Kenney’s term ended, and a swearing-in wasn’t necessary.
Mustafa Rashed, a political consultant who has worked on previous municipal campaigns in Philadelphia, says he’s not surprised the administration would handle it the way it did.
“I would imagine that the lawyers probably said, ‘Hey, what if this happens? Or, or what if that transpires?’” he told WHYY News. “You didn’t want to be in a position where you had to go get the mayor-elect to be sworn in to run the government.”
Rashed also pointed out that there was some precedent, such as Ed Rendell’s term as district attorney of Philadelphia, which also began on a New Year’s Day, and a private swearing-in was organized for him.
When asked why the Parker team chose to keep her ceremony not public, Rashed didn’t have an answer.
“Maybe it was a last-minute decision or something needed to be signed or an ordinance needed to be implemented which required a mayor’s signature,” he said. “Or there could have been legislation that was waiting from the last term that needed to be signed. Any number of things could have triggered that happening in an emergency.”
Tuesday’s formal inauguration, which starts at 10 a.m. and takes place at The Met Philadelphia, will include the official swearing-in, after which the mayor will outline her plans for her first 100 days in office. The former City Council member has already made numerous appointments.
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