Cherelle Parker, the Democrat likely to become Philadelphia’s next mayor, wants to hire hundreds more police officers to walk their beats and get to know residents. She wants to devote resources to recruiting more police and says officers should be able to stop and search pedestrians if they have a legitimate reason to do so.
Those positions, particularly search policies criticized for wrongly targeting people of color, seem out of step in a progressive bastion like Philadelphia. Parker trounced her rivals in this week’s mayoral primary with a message that centered on tougher law enforcement to combat rising crime and violence, the Associated Press reports.
While local politics don’t always align with the ideological divides in national debates, Parker’s victory offers a fresh case study for Democrats as they wrestle with how to approach the issue of violent crime, which increased in many cities during the pandemic and continues to be top of mind for voters.
The issue has divided Democrats from city halls to the White House, particularly over how much to rely on policing and incarceration to solve what many see as social problems, such as drug abuse and homelessness.
Parker, a city council member and former state legislator, argued that it’s a false choice to decide between investing in policing and addressing broader societal problems. “It is not either/or,” the 50-year-old Parker said.
That approach helped her defeat progressive rival Helen Gym by more than 25,000 votes. Gym, who advocated for measures including stronger police training and faster 911 response times, was backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and appeared with the lawmakers on the eve of the election. Gym and her supporters blamed her loss, in part, on attacks funded by wealthy donors who opposed her progressive policies.
The debate over policing intensified in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police prompted worldwide protests about policing and calls to defund police — a push that the GOP used against Democrats in 2020 elections. While Democrat Joe Biden won, moderate Democrats said the party wasn’t quick enough to denounce it.
New York City elected Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who vowed to invest more in public safety, and San Francisco voters recalled a progressive prosecutor amid frustration about public safety. In Chicago, progressive Brandon Johnson — who favored investing in areas like housing and youth jobs — topped a more moderate rival who had support from the police union. Progressive prosecutor Kim Foxx, who prioritized violent crimes over lower-level offenses and faced blowback for dropping charges against actor Jussie Smollett, said she will not seek reelection.
Philadelphia's Parker defended her support for “Terry stops,” or for officers to use “just and reasonable suspicion” to stop pedestrians. She and other candidates faced criticism including a protest at City Hall last month from those opposed to “stop and frisk.”
Tuesday’s result suggests the salience of police reform may be subsiding from the days when people were protesting in overwhelming numbers, said Michael Sances, a political science professor at Temple University.
Philadelphia saw a record number of homicides in 2021, most of them gun-related. That number fell from 562 to 516 in 2022, but was still significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Pittsburgh voters made a turn to the left in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for county prosecutor. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, in office for nearly a quarter century, trails challenger Matt Dugan, the county's public defender, by double digits in unofficial returns, although Republicans launched a write-in campaign for Zappala, so the two could face off again in November.