2016 Fels Institute of Government graduate Cherelle Parker won the Philadelphia mayoral election, becoming Philadelphia's 100th mayor and the first woman to serve as the city's mayor.
Parker, a former Philadelphia city councilmember and Pennsylvania state representative, faced Republican candidate David Oh and emerged as the winner with over 74% of the vote, according to the NBC News Decision Desk at time of publication with 93% of the vote accounted for. As people across the country voted in this year's general election on Nov. 7, Penn students and other community members casted their ballots on campus.
According to ballot receipts, approximately 1,158 people voted on campus on Nov. 7. About 274 people voted at the voting location while 884 people voted from Houston Hall. Out of those who voted on campus, 82.6% of voters casted their ballot for Parker and 13.1% voted for Oh.
Students told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they appreciated how accessible the University made the voting process.
College junior Emilia Caya Blonkenfeld said that she was grateful that the on-campus voting process was straight-forward. She is a California resident, but decided to register in Philadelphia after arriving at Penn.
“I feel like my vote matters a lot more here in Pennsylvania than it does back home, and I wanted to make my vote matter,” Caya Blonkenfeld said.
College first year Matthew Barotz volunteered with Penn Leads the Vote, a nonpartisan political group. PLTV set up tables with merchandise outside the polling locations to encourage students to vote as they entered and exited the building. Barotz said he spent the day distributing voting information and asking people to tell their friends to vote in order to maximize voting on campus.
“Off-year election years don't usually get a lot of voting turnout, even though there's a lot of important elections this year,” Barotz said, referencing the State Supreme Court and City Council races in Philadelphia. “I thought it was really important to spread awareness about it on campus, especially because this is such an active campus, politically, and I really wanted to contribute to that.”
In 2021 — the last off-year election — the DP reported that over 380 people voted at Penn's on-campus polling locations.
In addition to Parker's win, Democrats also had other victories down the ballot.
Democrat Dan McCaffery, a former Philadelphia prosecutor who sat on the statewide appellate court, was elected to an open seat on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court — increasing Democrat's majority to 5-2. Incumbent Democrat Jamie Gauthier secured a second term representing the 3rd District on the Philadelphia City Council.
Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O'Rourke, two candidates from the Working Families Party, both won seats on Philadelphia's City Council — taking control of seats that Republicans had held for over 70 years. These seats represent the city at-large and are effectively reserved for non-Democrats.
“Philadelphia is officially a two-party town,” Working Families Party leadership said in a press release reported by NBC. “But it’s not the Republicans and Democrats, it’s the Working Families Party and the Democrats. We are so proud of our two champions Kendra and Nicolas, and we know they’re going to wake up every day ready to fight for quality schools, clean air and water, and housing you can afford. The future of Philadelphia just got a little brighter.”
At Parker’s victory rally Tuesday night, a group of supporters wore merchandise from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, a historically Black Greek organization founded by women dedicated to public service of which Parker is a member, a nod to her becoming the first Black woman elected to Philadelphia's highest office.
Delta Sigma Theta sorority member Karen Dunlop, a senior talent acquisition specialist at Penn, told the DP that the sorority is about "elevating ourselves but also elevating those that are disadvantaged and being there for those that can't be the voice for themselves."
"That's what Cherelle has been about her whole life," Dunlop said.
Parker was heavily favored to secure the position since Democrats comprise the majority of the city’s electorate. Parker won the Democratic primary with 33 percent of votes in a race that included four other frontrunners.
A primary focal point of both Parker's and Oh’s campaigns was public safety — an issue that both candidates agreed on. Former Philadelphia mayor and 1979 Wharton graduate Michael Nutter described it as “virtually everyone’s No. 1 issue,” according to The New York Times.
Parker and Oh both agreed upon increasing police presence and community engagement. However, Parker is also a proponent of the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic of policing.
”We are in the middle of a crisis, and we have to use every tool that we have to get illegal guns off the street,” she said about the policy.
Parker spoke to The Daily Pennsylvanian in April about the role that Penn and its students play in her wider goals of creating a safer, cleaner city.
“I think students at the University of Pennsylvania understand that they have a very unique opportunity to impact Philadelphia in a way that will put others on a path to self sufficiency and give them access to opportunity,” Parker said ahead of the primary, adding that such an understanding “seems to come naturally” for many Penn students.
In February, Parker said she wanted to set an example for other Penn alumni that they can use their Penn degrees to bring about real change.
“I would have never thought because of my humble beginnings that Penn would have been a part of my future," Parker said, "And we can all come together to do this. I will be a living example. When done well, we put our Penn credentials to work and we work hard to make life better for people.”
She also said that she would want Penn to commit to Payments In Lieu of Taxes, or contributions that property tax-exempt organizations voluntarily make to local governments. The University has a long history of resisting calls for it to pay PILOTs.
Senior Reporter Jonah Miller contributed reporting.