Cherelle Parker at her 50th birthday party in 2022. (Parker campaign)

Former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker is the projected winner of the hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary, and in line to make history as the first woman to be Philly mayor.

With all precincts reporting, Parker garnered 32% of the vote, prevailing by a double-digit margin over the second-place finisher, according to unofficial returns. 

If Parker wins in the November general election as expected, she will be the first woman mayor — and first Black woman mayor — in 333 years of Philadelphia mayoral history.

Supporters at her victory party were dancing and cheering late Tuesday night, but Parker was missing.

The candidate had an “emergency” and could not be present, according to Ryan Boyer, business manager of the Laborers’ District Council of Philadelphia. It was a “dental issue,” according to a statement released by her campaign .

Parker is “thrilled to have received the trust and confidence of so many Philadelphians,” the statement said.

Former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart was trailing in second place with 23% of the vote, closely followed by former Councilmember Helen Gym, with 22%. Fourth and fifth were former Councilmember Allan Domb (11%) and supermarket magnate Jeff Brown (9%). No other candidate notched above 2%.

The other front-runners all gave concession speeches Tuesday night.

Supporters at Cherelle Parker’s victory party celebrate. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Early estimates show relatively strong turnout, potentially higher than the 27% of registered voters who cast a ballot in the 2015 primary won by Jim Kenney.

Parker will face former Councilmember David Oh, the lone Republican candidate for mayor, in November’s general election. 

The realities awaiting mayor No. 100

A close outcome had long been expected for what turned out to be the most expensive race in city history, with campaigns and associated super PACs raising more than $31 million. 

The race featured an unusually qualified field of contenders, including five former councilmembers, the former city controller, and a prominent local businessperson. Independent polls didn’t show up until late in the race, and it remained close through the finish. 

Several observers have pointed to the slim polling margins between the candidates as evidence Philadelphia should adopt ranked-choice voting. The method, which aims to produce more of a consensus winner by letting voters choose multiple candidates and rank them, has gained steam nationally. As of now, it isn’t legal in Pennsylvania.

Overall, the race had an unusually prominent focus on the pressing issues facing the city. 

After a fall and winter of campaign announcements, there were dozens if not hundreds of forums, debates, and other voter education events hosted by community and media organizations as part of the Lenfest Institute’s Every Voice, Every Vote initiative. 

These programs all did their part to explore the candidates’ proposed solutions to the top issues concerning voters, including crime and public safety, education, economic opportunity, housing and arts and culture. 

Over 65% of residents say the city is seriously on the wrong track, per a mid-March survey commissioned by the EVEV initiative. It’s a glimpse of the pessimistic cloud that COVID, a staggering number of homicides in 2021 and 2022, and a genuine crisis of leadership cast on Kenney’s second term. 

That mood will be the context which Parker, likely to pick up the mantle next, will be acting against, armed with the opportunity to seek and spend local and state funds in a state of somewhat unforeseen (and temporary) surplus, thanks to federal pandemic relief and legislation.  

In the race’s closing weeks a series of independent polls were released that all showed a game-changing number of undecided voters, meaning there was little sign of a demonstrative advantage for any of the top three women frontrunners heading into Election Day. 

How did Philadelphia’s political factions line up? 

Candidate endorsements largely came before the race’s final weeks, and like votes, were split thoroughly between the top candidates. 

Building trades unions and local elected officials were nearly unanimous in their support of longtime legislator Parker, 

Rhynhart won the support of three former mayors and quite a few highly active wards throughout the city. 

Municipal workers in District Council 33 and most law enforcement unions supported Jeff Brown. Other municipal workers in District Council 47, plus the local teacher’s union and many progressive community organizations backed Gym. 

Moneyed political action committees spent plenty in support of the top candidates, save for the largely self-funded candidacy of former councilmember and entrepreneur Domb. 

The campaign trail was fairly cordial until about a month and a half before Election Day, when public engagements became a venue for candidates to air both veiled and direct criticisms of their opponents. 

Former councilmembers Derek Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez dropped out in early April, with Quiñones Sánchez noting that her operation couldn’t keep up with the “obscene” amount of money being splashed around. 

A Board of Ethics investigation into first-time candidate Jeff Brown was at the core of many public callouts, but barbs were traded left and right on personal and political grounds.

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...