Progressive candidate loses in Philadelphia Democrat mayoral primary

 May 18, 2023

Progressive Philadelphia Democrat mayoral candidate Helen Gym, who was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), lost the primary on Tuesday to Cherelle Parker, who is slightly more moderate and pledged to be hard on crime in the city. 

Parker got 33% of the vote in a crowded race, and no runoff was needed in the primary race. Gym was third with 21% of the vote behind Parker and Rebecca Rhynhart, who had 23%.

The result was different than a recent mayoral election in Chicago, in which progressive Brandon Johnson won in a runoff despite being less of a law-and-order candidate than his closest opponent, Paul Vallas.

Parker will face Republican David Oh in the general election in November, but is widely expected to win the race because of the dominance of Democrat voting in the city.

"Philadelphians are smarter"

Republican strategist Charlie Gerow seemed to say that Chicago was an outlier for throwing out incumbent Lori Lightfoot over high crime rates but then electing a progressive likely to make things even worse.

"I can't explain the nuttiness of Chicago. I am at a loss on that," the former Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate told the Washington Examiner. "I think it's just that Philadelphians are smarter."

Matt Krayton had a positive spin on the race. "I don't think it's necessarily a setback for progressives," Krayton, the founder of political consulting firm Publitics, said. "I think Philadelphia races are just [about] good, disciplined, campaigning at the end of the day. And having that message, bringing that credibility to the issues that matter to people."

Some types of crime in the city are up so far in 2023, while homicides are down 20% after spiking in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chicago has seen a similar trend.

"Big, big factor"

"[Crime is] a real concern. You've got a terrible district attorney down there," Gerow said. "Crime is a big, big factor. I mean, if you walk Walnut Street, see the condition of what used to be the crown jewel of Philadelphia is — I have to say that there's a lot of work to be done."

Krayton and Gerow agreed that crime was not the only factor in Parker's win over Gym.

"Her personality was a big part of it," Gerow said. "She has been charming ... she was very personable, and people liked her."

"I think she ran a solid campaign that spoke to voters' concerns on a lot of different issues, focused on bread and butter issues, and was able to create a lane for herself and was obviously very successful in that," Krayton said.

Longtime local leader

Parker spent 17 years in local politics, first as a state representative for northwest Philadelphia and from 2015 to the present, on city council.

"I think, ultimately, what Cherelle Parker did was articulate that credibility in being able to deal with both the symptoms but also then, taking a hard look at the causes — investing in the middle class, investing in jobs opportunity, things like that. So, it wasn't just a one-size-fits-all [approach]," Krayton added.

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