Cherelle Parker’s journey to becoming the city’s 100th mayor as the first woman and Black woman to claim the position was by its very nature historic.
To supporters and followers, it was even more meaningful because of the hardships Parker faced in making it to this point. The former councilmember and state legislator lost both parents and her grandmother at a young age, yet — with help of what she refers to as her “village” — went on to build a very successful career.
Now Parker finds herself about to assume a position of power in the city where she grew up.
In her lengthy and full election night victory speech, as she laid out her vision for Philadelphia going forward, while recounting her route to the top and making clear she hopes to set an example that inspires others to follow in her footsteps.
You can watch the full speech here, or scroll down for the transcript, lightly edited for clarity.
‘I said it out loud’
Philadelphia, I started out on this campaign trail and I tried to follow the script. A lot of campaign experts thought that they would tell us the best way that we should walk, talk, and act to win an election and get votes. For those of you who know me, it just didn’t feel right.
And so I got on the trail and I began to talk about [it] out loud. I didn’t hide from it because I wouldn’t allow anybody else to attempt to weaponize my humble beginnings against me. So before they could do it, I made sure that I told you that I was born to a single teenage mother, that I was raised by my grandparents, that my grandmother collected welfare and subsidized food to take care of me.
And when I talked about the welfare, they said, “Well what do you mean? Did you get public assistance? And did you have the credit card?” I said I had colored money in books. I said I took purple 20s, green 10s, and brown dollars. I told folks out loud about that 5-pound block of cheese that never sliced as thin as we wanted it to, but it made the best macaroni and cheese in the whole wide world.
I said it out loud because I needed people to know that my real-life lived experience was closest to the people who are feeling the most pain right now in our city.
My message to Philadelphians from all walks of life was that if they would just give me the opportunity that I would put to great use everything inside of me: my lived life experience, my professional experience, my academic preparation.
That I would put all of it to great use to work with you all to make Philadelphia the safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation with economic opportunity for all.
Making it ‘plain’
Listen, Philadelphia. This is important, what I’m about to say. When I delivered the message, the first time they heard me, maybe I was with [state Sen.] Vincent Hughes in West Philadelphia, but it was a Black audience. And what they thought was going to happen was that when [District 6 Councilmember Mike] Driscoll and [state Sen. Jimmy] Dillon took me to the Northeast to a ward meeting, they thought that the message was going to change.
This is what I publicly affirm to each of you. When it comes time for us to have tough discussions, discussions about tough issues, guess what we won’t do? We won’t tiptoe through the tulips.
We don’t care about the race, the class, the socioeconomic status, the zip code, the religion, the sexual orientation, the identity. No matter where we went, our message stayed the same.
And guess what I learned during that time, Philadelphia? That people were yearning for authenticity. They were yearning to hear somebody, to speak to them like a regular person. They were learning to do what we learned in the Baptist Church. Sometimes when the preacher is speaking, you’ll hear somebody in the congregation say, “Make it plain.”
When I was on the campaign trail, I learned that Philadelphians wanted someone to make it plain.
When I shared that message, I made sure I let them know how complex the issues were. That there was no one single thing that we could do to accomplish all of those goals, but that it would take local, state, federal government, the private sector, and the philanthropic community all working together in order to make it happen.
‘Turn pain into power’
And guess what? It happened. People have talked a lot about the breaking of glass ceilings, but I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around that concept. I am rather thinking about the women and the men in my life who’ve been a part of my village, who’ve laid concrete pavers to give me a vehicle to walk through.
I’m here with my boss lady, [former Councilmember] Marian Tasco. I’m thinking about [former Councilmember Augusta] Gussie Clark. I’m thinking about [former Councilmember] Joan Krajewski and [former Council President] Anna Verna. I’m thinking about [former state Sen.] Roxanne Jones. I saw [former state Sen. Minority Chair] Shirley Kitchen.
Listen, I was going to get coffee [when I worked with some of these women]. That’s how they trained me, right? But when you’re there, you’re like a sponge. And if you’re willing to learn and take advantage of opportunities that are available to you.
My life should be a textbook case study on how you turn pain into power.
So this is what we have to do. Because people are expecting me — and I’ve said this out loud too — you know, I am not superwoman. I know we make it look easy. That’s because I have a super great village.
My former husband and I are divorced. Guess what? We work hard to co-parent this prince [our son Langston]. Guess what? [My campaign manager] Sinceré [Harris] got the call after the first video went out from the experts in DC. And they said, “Well, Sinceré, she’s not going to have a chance. She can’t tell people that she’s a single mother. I mean, Black women are just not going to accept that.”
Guess what? Being your authentic self, I talked to Black women, white women, Latino women, Asian women. I talked to men — and guess what the men would say, that warmed my spirit? “Thank you for publicly affirming that two adults can acknowledge that it may not have worked out, but that you can still work together to love and raise your child.”’
This is what we’re going to make sure that we do. We’re going to make sure that we put people on the path to self-sufficiency.
Zero tolerance policy
You heard me talk about making our public health and safety our number one priority. Listen, I don’t apologize about that. We are going to use every legal tool that is in the toolbook to make this city safe.
You’ve got to know this, we work in a collaborative way. I use the term so much, the press started making fun of me every time I said, “intergovernmental cooperation.” Local, state, federal government, any agency that can add value in helping us make public health and safety the number one priority.
If we make decisions, there are going to be some people who are not going to like them. There are going to be some people who are going to say some things that are not nice. I need you all to know that we are prepared.
When you hear about people altering their lives and moving where their favorite chair is in their living room because they are afraid, that tells us that we have a challenge.
You won’t be able to go in the store and steal $499 worth of merchandise and just think that it’s okay. We have to have a sense of order in our city. While we’re doing that, let’s understand this: zero tolerance for any misuse and or abuse of authority by our law enforcement officers. Yes, they have to be there as guardians and not warriors.
What’s the first step you take in order to make that happen? You make sure that you select a police commissioner who understands cultural competency, emotional intelligence, a leader who’s not afraid to make tough decisions even though they’re not going to be popular. It starts with that leader who works in conjunction with other departments in the City of Philadelphia, but he or she would be responsible for crafting the plan to reduce crime here in the City of Philadelphia.
Collaboration as key to progress
Before we walked in — Langston, you want to tell everybody who you just talked to? We just talked to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
We just told them that this is an election the people have chosen, and Lord knows I’m proud, but Philadelphia cannot be successful without an immense amount of support from the White House and our Congress. We need the support.
Both of them said that they are prepared and they are ready. We were with our governor, we have our Speaker [of the Pa. House] Joanna McClinton. Somebody just mentioned to me that our [Pa. House] appropriations chairman, Jordan Harris [is here]. Raise your hand, Senator Hughes. State Senator Sharif Street, our Democratic Party chair.
It’s important for me to acknowledge their presence because if anybody thinks that they’re going to use those antiquated, outdated territorial tribal warfare strategies to divide and conquer us, it’s just not going to work. Whenever I see it, I need you to know I’m gonna call it out and say it out loud. I really am.
That doesn’t mean it’s gonna be kumbaya all the time. That means we make tough decisions, but we find a way to sit down at a table and hammer out compromises.
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson [and likely next Council president], are you here? I think you should come stand next to me while I’m talking about this part. Councilmember Johnson and I talked with 15 members of Council — two I have not [yet, because] we’re waiting for the results of the election — but we’re gonna talk with and we’re gonna work with everybody.
I know it makes for ”good theater,” I will call it, to see a City Council and a mayor not get together, not be able to move this city forward by working in a collaborative way. But if it’s God’s will, we are not going to use that as our strategy. We will not let divide and conquer be the tool that people use to stop us from working together.
Affordable home ownership and year-round education
It is my hope tonight that by working together and working to put people on the path to self-sufficiency, we remove any explanation that anyone can give about why they can’t succeed.
We want to make access to home ownership affordable for Philadelphians. We don’t want people house-poor, spending more than 30% of their income on rent. We want all of our children in a 21st-century modern school building with the highest academic achievement. If anybody is interested in talking to me about public education and you’re trying to pitch traditional publics against charters again, don’t do it. I’m not the person to have that conversation with.
We are going to find a way to move educational opportunities for our young people forward — I’m a certified secondary English teacher by profession. [On the campaign trail,] I talked about year-round public education. Immediately when I said it, the naysayers said, ‘Well, what are you gonna do? Keep children in classrooms all day long without air and no heat.” And I just thought to myself, “Wow, how narrow minded.”
Access to year-round education is what Senator Hughes was talking about when he called it the “summer slide.” I’m sorry to tell you today, but not all of the young people in the School District of Philadelphia are in the Hamptons in the summer or at the Vineyard. Maybe you thought they were there, but they are not.
For those who are being raised, particularly in circumstances like mine, particularly when they’re being raised by someone other than their biological parent, they can benefit from creative year-round scheduling. They could benefit from going to school in the morning and having it open until 6:30 in the evening. And after the traditional school day finishes, how about they get access to some coding, some financial literacy?
How about access to just skill building? I’m getting ready to tell you the big one for me. Homework, health, and tutoring. Have you seen the math today? Right. What about the parents who can’t afford to hire a tutor or get homework help? Should those young people have to suffer? Or should we put those opportunities in schools throughout the School District of Philadelphia and say, you can have breakfast, lunch and even dinner while you’re there. The homework is going to be done.
I want you to think like a teacher, teaching a lesson plan for the week. And then I want you to imagine the teacher, knowing that somebody was reinforcing what they just taught in the evening, and helping young people get their homework done. That is tangible, that is how you get access to economic opportunity. Safer, cleaner, greener, with economic opportunity for all.
In every meeting that we’ve traveled to across the city, particularly after the primary election — I would tell people, I don’t care where you were during the primary election, it’s now time for us to unite as one Philly. One Philly.
Let me hear you all, let me hear you say: “One Philly! A city united! One Philly! A city united!”
After tonight [at this victory party], somebody you’re gonna call, they’re not going to be excited about where you are. They’re going to be what I call the expert AOPs, have you ever met them? They’re the expert “articulators of problems.” They’re going to tell you over and over and over again just how and why all of this intergovernmental collaboration and convening a private sector and faith-based and philanthropic communities, just why it won’t work.
When they tell you that it won’t work, I want you to listen, be patient and listen, but once they’re finished, this is what I want you to say, “Don’t throw shade on my Philly shine.” Don’t throw shade on my Philly shine.
We stand on the shoulders of the great ones. We’re going to do what people think is impossible and we are going to do it together. Get your resumes together, make sure they’re updated, figure out what mayor’s community council you’re going to join, what board or commission are you going to attempt to use your time, talent, and treasure to help move our city forward.
The team behind a winning campaign
Now, somebody’s gonna write a book about who did this. Somebody’s gonna tell the story. [Gathers campaign staff and major supporters on stage.]
So just for the record, I want you to know that these are the folks. When there were folks who said, “You are not going to be able to do this because you won’t be able to raise the money,” they never questioned our confidence. They never questioned our ability. They never questioned any of that.
The only thing they would say, “Well, if she doesn’t raise, a half a million dollars, you should tell her she’s not viable and she shouldn’t even think about running.”
We got a call about some people we had been counting on who told us, ‘As soon as you resign from Council, we’ll know you’re serious. And once we know you’re serious, we’ll be all in. We’ll help to finance you. And we’ll endorse you.”
Next thing you know, I’m looking at the television screen, and the same people that I thought were going to be endorsing me and financing me, they took the bag. And [deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Tom Wolf] Obra [Kernodle] called, and he knew I was upset. He checked on me. I was crying, y’all. And Obe said, “Baby girl, why are you acting like anything in your life has been easy? Why are you acting like you surprised?”
But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Stay focused. If Congressman Dwight Evans was here, [he would say,] “Stay positive and stay focused, Cherelle.” That was what we needed to do.
Aren Platt has been my senior advisor. The toughest time that I’ve ever had in my professional and personal life, I had to deal with publicly back in 2010 or 2011. That was the DUI that folks thought that they were going to weaponize against me. It was Aren Platt who was the advisor who helped me through those difficult times. Aren stuck by me for a long time. He was the chief fundraiser, the communications director, he was the chief strategist, and he kept our team going, and I appreciate you, and we won’t forget that, Aren Platt.
Sinceré Harris. I said, “She going to leave the White House to come do this?” She was in a job in the prime of her life in the White House. We met, we talked.
Vice President [Kamala Harris], when she was a candidate for the vice presidency, you all remember when she came to my house and we had the event? I would love to be able to tell y’all it was because I was so wonderful, but it wasn’t. It was because Sinceré Harris said, “Cherelle’s backyard is going to be the spot where you come.”
What I want you all to see is that none of this was done by me alone. I’m the candidate and I’m the vehicle, but this was the team and this was the village. This was about a connectedness of people.
‘A get-it-done mayor’
So the building trades, they beat me up about the building trades. [Building Trades Council Business Manager] Ryan Boyer, where are you?
They said, “Oh, the building trades support Cherelle Parker and those carpenters. They’re going to control these puppet strings. They’re going to move her. She’s going to do anything the building trades and the carpenters tell her to do.” They couldn’t agree with the shared vision of putting people on the path to self-sufficiency, so they would reduce my frame of thinking to say, “She’s gained their support and she’s going to be their puppet.”
Guess what we’re about to do that you’ve never seen before? We’re going to make sure children trained in the School District of Philadelphia get to learn what it means to be a laborer, a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter.
And for all the naysayers who said, “Well, you know, the building trades, they have these problems. They’re not transparent when it comes to race.” Don’t tell me about problems of the past. I’m here now.
Give us an opportunity to get it together and sit at the table and fix it. Because if we work together and not as adversaries and not us versus them, not business versus government, versus community. We need everyone to bring it together.
Who is Cherelle Parker going to be? A get-it-done Philadelphian, a get-it-done mayor who won’t ever forget her deep roots.
I’m Philly-born, I’m Philly-bred, and I’ll be a Philadelphian till I’m dead. I love you, Philly. We’re going to do this together. One Philly. One Philly. One Philly.
We can do it together, y’all. Thank you for coming out tonight. Thank you.