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Cherelle Parker wins crowded Democratic Philadelphia mayoral primary; Dems keep Pennsylvania House majority

Philadelphia holds mayoral primary elections
Breaking down Philadelphia's Democratic mayoral primary election 06:00

Philadelphia Democrats on Tuesday selected Cherelle Parker to be their party's mayoral nominee, the Associated Press has declared. 

Parker will be favored to win the general election in November when she takes on Republican David Oh.

The winner will go on to be the city's 100th mayor. Philadelphia is heavily Democratic and has not elected a Republican mayor since the 1950s. 

With about 66% of precincts reporting, Cherelle Parker was leading with 32.89% of the vote, with Rebecca Rhynhart in a distant second place with 22.33%.  

"I'm so incredibly honored to have earned the Democratic nomination tonight," Parker said in a statement on social media. "It's been a long road, and to see the tireless work of my campaign team, supporters, and family pay off is humbling."  

Election 2023 Philadelphia Mayor
FILE - Philadelphia mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker takes part in a Democratic primary debate on April 25, 2023. Matt Rourke / AP

The Democrats also Tuesday narrowly maintained their majority in the Pennsylvania state House, according to the AP, thanks to a Democratic win in a closely watched special election.

Philadelphia mayoral polls leading up to primary day

Recent polls had shown that five Democrats — Parker, Rhynhart, Helen Gym, Allan Domb and Jeff Brown — had a shot at winning, including the three women who could become the city's first female mayor. In April, the nonpartisan nonprofit Committee of Seventy's survey found all five in a statistical tie. 

According to CBS Philadelphia, polling suggested as many as 1 in 5 Democratic voters were still undecided. All five leading candidates had been campaigning hard leading up to primary day.

Philadelphia and national Democrats

Philadelphia, the nation's sixth-largest city by population, is a crucial city for Democrats nationally in the swing state of Pennsylvania. President Biden won Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes, with most coming from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the surrounding suburbs. 

Election 2023 What to Watch
File: Mayoral candidates, from left to right, Jeff Brown, Helen Gym, Rebecca Rhynhart, Cherelle Parker, state Rep. Amen Brown and Allan Domb take part in a Democratic primary debate at the WPVI-TV studio in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 25, 2023.  Matt Rourke / AP

"It's one of the few states that was sort of very close in the 2020 election, and I think for the Democrats in Pennsylvania, the big issue for the mayor is not only to sort of govern the city but encourage turnout, get them out to the polls in the presidential race," said William Rosenberg, a professor of political science at Drexel University. 

National Democrats have been keeping an eye on the state — Mr. Biden endorsed Heather Boyd, a candidate in a special General Assembly race that also took place Tuesday. According to the AP, Boyd won her race, defeating Republican Katie Ford and helping the Democrats maintain their narrow majority in the state House.

Democrats had taken control of the Assembly in November for the first time since 2010, but state Rep. Mike Zabe resigned in March after he was accused of sexual harassment. While Zabe's former district is located in the increasingly blue Philadelphia suburbs, Democrats weren't taking any chances in Boyd's race, having raised more than $1 million since April.

The Republicans hold the majority in the state Senate. 

Most expensive Philadelphia mayoral race in history

The mayor's race in Philadelphia was the most expensive in the city's history, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, with two candidates — Derek Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez — dropping out because the price of the race was too high. 

Over $14 million of the $24 million being spent has come from two wealthy candidates who were funding their races, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Domb, a real estate developer, has poured $10.2 million into his race, and Brown, a Philadelphia grocery store chain owner, has contributed $3 million to his campaign.

Two other frontrunners — Gym and Rhynhart — had each raised about $2 million. Parker had raised $1.7 million. 

Issues in the mayoral race

The issue dominating the race has been crime, although all the candidates generally agree on how to combat it. Poverty and quality of life have also been major issues. 

"You've got this real dissatisfaction, more so than I think normal," said Richardson Dilworth, the head of the political science department at Drexel and the author of "Reforming Philadelphia 1682-2022." He said of Mayor Jim Kenney, "Fairly or unfairly, the current mayor has just gotten absolutely heaped on for sort of not doing much — hiding away and stuff like that." 

Dilworth said there's a need among voters to feel like "somebody's home, in some respects." 

The mayoral candidates

Parker, a former Philadelphia City Council member, had been endorsed by many of the ward leaders and other local political leaders. And Mayor Kenney also said he voted for Parker. She was the only Black candidate left in the race, and 44% of the city's population is Black. Parker had racked up support from many of the Black community leaders.   

Gym, a former teacher, community organizer and City Council member, was the progressive in the race. And she got a boost from two of the best-known progressives in the country last week when Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both campaigned for her.

Rhynhart, meanwhile, had been endorsed by major Democratic figures, including former Mayors Ed Rendell and Michael Nutter, as well as the Philadelphia Inquirer. Rhynhart is the former Philadelphia controller and has sought to set herself apart on policy. 

While all three women had collected union endorsements, Brown won the coveted endorsement of the city's largest municipal union. 

Because the May primary falls in an off-election year, turnout was expected to be low. Candidates had been trying to boost their support at the polls. Sanders, in his speech on Sunday, told voters "there is no doubt in my mind that Helen is the next mayor of Philadelphia," if everyone in the crowd votes and brings a few friends or family to the polls. 

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