Headlines from various national publications about the Philadelphia mayor's race, in the weeks just before the 2023 primary.

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

The big local politics story in Philadelphia since late last year has indubitably been the crowded Democratic mayoral primary and how it would shake out. 

But only in the past couple weeks has the rest of the country turned its attention toward the nation’s sixth largest city, as national media outlets jumped into the fold ahead of Tuesday’s primary, summarizing the months-long campaign leading up to this point and analyzing its dynamics.

There were basically two major — and overlapping — threads in that coverage: the battle between moderates and progressives for control of a large American city, and a focus on policing and public safety.

The mayoral contest winner is clear now: Cherelle Parker, a former councilmember and state representative from the Northwest who’s poised to be Philly’s first female mayor

In a race with five perceived frontrunners, the reality of her margin of victory ended up being different from the “dead heat” forecasted by some polls. As of Wednesday afternoon, Parker led the second-place candidate, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, by 10 percentage points with 94% of divisions reporting. Helen Gym, a former city councilmember and activist who’d drawn support from prominent national progressive politicians, came in third.

There’s still plenty of time and room for analysis of what led Parker to victory and what that means for the future. 

For now, here’s a look at how the battle for the city’s top government position was presented to the rest of the country in the lead-up to Election Day.

A chance for progressives

Perhaps the most common dimension outside political observers kept their eye on is intraparty dynamics, with progressive forces competing with more moderate ones for control of Philly government.

Many articles zeroed in on former Councilmember Helen Gym. Considered the furthest left candidate in the race, she was endorsed by nationally prominent progressives like U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The news stories painted her as the potential next piece of a progressive wave in American city leadership, coloring the coverage with varying levels of hopefulness or skepticism. 

CNN said a potential victory for Gym, who did not ultimately win, would be “an exclamation point for many on the left who, after so many recent disappointments, are on a remarkable winning streak in municipal elections” — a reference to the elections of progressive mayors like Brandon Johnson in Chicago, Michelle Wu in Boston, and Karen Bass in Los Angeles.

Vox framed the race as offering “new data” to national Democrats as to what ideological direction is resonating more with voters, while the New York Times noted the race’s potential to provide “the next significant, if imperfect, citywide test of progressive power.”

Headlines in this vein include:

  • “The Progressive Takeover of Big Cities Is Nearly Complete” — New York Magazine
  • “Philadelphia’s mayoral race has been all about crime. A progressive might win anyway” — Semafor
  • “Philadelphia’s Helen Gym is focused on her city. Progressives see a national star on the rise” — CNN
  • “Helen Gym Is Not Here to Tinker Around the Edges” — The New Republic
  • “The next battle for the soul of the Democratic Party” — Politico
  • “The Philadelphia mayor’s primary is the latest showdown between progressives and moderates” — Vox
  • “Philadelphia Democratic mayoral primary pits moderates against progressives” — Associated Press

A referendum on crime and public safety

Another way national outlets approached the race, and its progressive vs. moderate dynamic, is through the lens of what Philadelphians have said is their number one issue: crime, particularly gun violence.

Philly saw a tragically record-setting year for gun violence in 2021, when there were 506 shooting deaths. Last year, 474 people were killed with a gun.

The impact of the crisis isn’t evenly spread across the city, and according to an Inquirer analysis, the most impacted neighborhoods broke for Parker.

Leading up to Tuesday, outlets like Vanity Fair and the Wall Street Journal offered readers overviews of the oft-discussed campaign trail topic, including the candidates’ differing approaches to issues like stop and frisk, and the hesitance of any Democrat to propose cutting police funding.

  • “Top Democrats in Philadelphia Mayoral Race Call for More Policing” — The Wall Street Journal
  • “How A Violent Crime Wave Is Shaping Philadelphia’s Mayoral Race” — HuffPost
  • “Candidates in Philadelphia’s mayoral race have differing approaches when it comes to the city’s crime problem” — Fox News
  • “Philadelphia mayoral race homes in on crime policies” — Associated Press
  • “Philadelphia’s Mayoral Race Is a Test Case for Democrats on Crime” — Vanity Fair
Avatar photo

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...