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Philadelphia Mayor Parker gets personal about being 1st woman to run city, biggest challenges she inherited

Extended interview: Cherelle Parker opens up about first 100 days as Philadelphia mayor
Extended interview: Cherelle Parker opens up about first 100 days as Philadelphia mayor 07:17

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Thursday marks 100 days since Mayor Cherelle Parker took office in Philadelphia as the first woman and first Black woman to lead the city.

Parker recently agreed to a rare one-on-one interview with CBS News Philadelphia to discuss her administration's top priorities, her journey to making history and some of the biggest challenges her administration has inherited.

From humble beginnings: Parker's journey to making history

"Sometimes I'll see tourists come, and I'm like, 'Hey, how you all doing, where you from, is this your first time?' And they're like, 'Only the mayor would interrupt your tour,'" Parker said with a laugh during an interview with CBS News Philadelphia at City Hall.

"Madam Mayor" is a title Cherelle Parker never imagined having.

She was 17 when she gave her first speech in City Hall.

"I was terrified," Parker said. "I had just won the citywide Black History Month oratorical competition."

School District of Philadelphia

That speech as a high school student would be Parker's first introduction to Philadelphia politics. Thirty-four years later, she's making history as the city's first female mayor.

When asked about the moments after her inauguration, Parker said, "After we did our swearing-in and I had a chance to go into the mayor's office, sit in the chair, I cried," the mayor said. "I was a product of very humble beginnings."

Parker was born to a single mother and raised by her grandparents in Philadelphia's West Oak Lane neighborhood. Parker said the support of her family and mentors helped her rise from City Council intern to state representative, city councilmember and now mayor.

"God placed those people in my life, Janelle," Parker said. "Because according to statistics and stats, this is not an opportunity that's available for someone like me."

"I'm not going to allow Philadelphians to live in fear"

The mayor is aware of the significant challenges she has inherited.

On her first day in office, the mayor signed an executive order declaring a public safety emergency. She wants to hire more police officers, implement more community policing and the controversial use of so-called Terry stops - the ability to detain people if there is reasonable suspicion of a crime.

When asked how she responds to the concern from some about police potentially using their authority to target minority communities, Parker said, "The first thing I want them to do is to know that we in the Parker administration have zero tolerance for any misuse and or abuse of authority."

Cherelle Parker

"I'm the mother of a Black son," she said. "We've had the talk with Langston and will continue to have to have that talk with him because we know what it's like when that law was disproportionately weaponized."

But the mayor said the police need to know she has their back.

"I'm not going to take any tool out of the toolbox for our police officers [and] law enforcement officers to enforce the law," Parker said.

As for her message to the people committing crimes, Parker said the city is not giving up on them.

"You matter," she said. "We value you, [but] you can't make an excuse for taking a life. There is no just cause for taking a life. But this is what we will do. We won't give up on trying. I'm not going to allow Philadelphians to live in fear."

Keeping her promise

Working to keep that promise often means restless nights for the city's new mayor.

"When that phone rings now, you have to pick it up," Parker said. "If it says you have to go, you have to be ready to go."

As Philadelphia's 100th chief executive, she's now on-call 24-7, making history as the first woman in the position and the first mother to hold the job.

As a Black woman and a mother of a young child Parker brings a unique perspective to the office. Her son is 11 years old.

"I am not superwoman," Parker said of how she's juggling being a mom and mayor. "I don't want anyone to think I'm like this superwoman who handles everything. I have a strong village and that's his grandmother, his godmother. My former husband and I - we work very closely. We're best friends now and help co-parent and help our son during this time.

"But Langston, I wish I could tell you he was feeling it, he's so underwhelmed."

As a parent and now as the city's top leader, safety is a top concern for the mayor and atop her agenda.

Tackling the Kensington question

When it comes to Kensington's infamous open-air drug market, how to address the issue remains widely debated.

"The Parker administration is at war with the status quo that has been allowed to prevail," the mayor said. "I do not profess to you that we have a magic wand and we're going to be able to wipe it away in a year. What I am going to tell you is we're going to do everything within our power to convene every resource together."

The mayor is pledging $100 million in her proposed budget for long-term treatment for those battling addiction and homelessness. She just signed a bill enacting a curfew in Kensington for businesses without liquor licenses.

"It's not easy to make a decision that you know people are going to criticize you for," she said.

New programs aim to help Kensington residents stay off the streets 02:17

To those questioning the mayor's approach, she had this message.

"They said, you know, she lacks compassion and she lacks empathy and I thought to myself, 'Wow, if you would have only walked a mile in my shoes growing up in this city, and if you lived and you saw people you loved in your family suffer from addiction, (and) die from addiction," Parker said. "It's not a Band-Aid. It makes some people uncomfortable, but I want to do the best I can with what little we have."

Being her "authentic self"

Parker said she makes no apologies about how she plans to run her administration.

"I bring my full self, my authentic self," the mayor said. "I know what it's like to be left out, overlooked, forgotten. But you bring all of that to the table and you make sure everybody has a seat because you know what it's like to not be there."

When asked how she wants her administration to be regarded after her term, the mayor paused before answering.

"My hope is that people will say that Cherelle helped to unify our city," Parker said, "and that our city was better off."

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