PHILADELPHIA—As four Black candidates fight to become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor, it has become clear to some local observers that there are divergent paths for achieving “Black empowerment” in the city. But individual agendas risk perpetuating ongoing marginalization if there is no unity among Black voters, some analysts note.
Philadelphia faces a series of significant issues: an ongoing gun violence crisis, poor schools, the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an exhausted bureaucratic infrastructure. The mayoral election slated for later this year will provide one of the most critical tests between those seeking to advance a progressive movement in Philadelphia and its Democratic establishment. It could also be history-making with the first woman to be elected mayor of the city. The candidates, all Democrats, are vying to succeed term-limited Jim Kenney.
Candidates include: Amen Brown, Jeff Brown, James ‘Jimmy’ DeLeon, Allan Domb, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker and Maria Quiñones Sánchez
For many Black residents, as important as these issues are to consider, what should not get overlooked is figuring out what real Black power looks like.
Supreme Dow, a community activist and former Democratic politician, shared his thoughts with The Final Call on the controversy generated by the Union League of Philadelphia’s awarding a prestigious award to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in late January and the city’s upcoming May primary election. The Union League of Philadelphia is a private, conservative, majority-White organization founded in 1862 (see The Final Call, Vol. 42 No. 18 article, “Philly’s Black leaders call award to DeSantis a ‘slap in the face’”)
According to Mr. Dow, if authentic political power resided in the Philly’s Black community, this award by the Union League would have been called into question and he noted that having a Black mayor was not necessarily indicative of authentic influence.
“To see true progress in addressing systemic barriers caused by White supremacy, we must look for a mayor with demonstrated success. We need someone who has consistently fought and delivered results on issues of relevance to the Black community—just any old Black candidate won’t do. Unfortunately, none of the current candidates offer such evidence,” he argued.
Reverend Jerome Fordham, president of the Philadelphia Chapter of National Action Network, told The Final Call that while three Black mayors won past elections, their power and ability to effect change was limited.
And with the current pool of candidates, there is a genuine concern if any of the Black candidates can get elected. “With four Black candidates in the race, there is a real risk that their votes could be split, opening up an opportunity for someone else to snatch victory. We must carefully evaluate each of these potential leaders on who can truly make meaningful change,” said Rev. Fordham.
And the question many Black voters are asking is, which candidate can boast the most meaningful and substantive work for the Black community?
Jeff Brown’s candidacy has sparked an interesting debate with some voters. He is a White entrepreneur, business owner, and the only candidate without a politically elected background. He has helped to address issues Black communities face. His grocery stores have opened in “food deserts,” offering employment opportunities for those with formerly incarcerated records while providing local access to fresh food.
Cherelle Parker, the leading Black candidate for mayor and protégé of former Councilmember Marian Tasco, is no stranger to Philadelphia politics. As former City Council Majority Leader and state representative, she is a member of Pennsylvania’s Northwest Coalition political dynasty. She is considered to be a part of the Democratic establishment.
The remaining candidates are Derek Green, a Black council member known for his thoughtful approach to policymaking and aversion to the spotlight. After resigning from two terms on the council, he recently launched his bid for mayor.
Maria Quiñones Sánchez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the “City of Brotherly Love” at six months old. She made history as Philadelphia’s first Latina member of the city council, winning election in 2007.
Under former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, Rebecca Rhynhart, a White woman, left Wall Street to become the city’s budget director.
As a condominium broker and landlord, Allan Domb, also White, entered city council in 2016, and is the wealthiest candidate. He has spent thousands of dollars on his previous campaigns.
With more than three decades of experience on the bench, James DeLeon, a West Philadelphia-born Black man, distinguished himself as one of the longest-serving municipal court judges.
A progressive, Helen Gym, the first Asian American on the city council, is likely to get the support of left-wing groups that have backed opponents like the Democratic establishment’s more centrist officials—like District Attorney Larry Krasner and Councilmember Kendra Brooks in recent years.
Amen Brown, a Black centrist Democrat and member of the investigative committee formed to examine District Attorney Larry Krasner for impeachment, has broken party lines by introducing legislation that advocates tough-on-crime policies, including mandatory minimum sentencing.
Reverend Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, told The Final Call that a candidate’s forum would be taking place to give voters an opportunity to see and hear from those jockeying to be the city’s next mayor. “This event aims to provide those running for office with an opportunity to introduce themselves while giving members of the clergy a chance to ask questions to determine who is best suited for their endorsement. The result from this process will go up for vote amongst all body members before any official decision can be made,” said Rev. Collier.
“If the Black candidates truly want to prevail in this election, it would be beneficial for them to come together and select one formidable representative. Otherwise, their collective power will remain fragmented—likely resulting in a defeat of all parties involved. Unifying behind a single leader is an essential step toward success. Let’s hope that comes into fruition soon,” he said.
Supreme Dow stated that true Black power comes from controlling resources in the community and having an influence on the flow of goods. Without doing so, any type of perceived power is meaningless, he argued. “An unwavering commitment to elevating the Black community informed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s work,” he said referring to the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam. “He (Mr. Muhammad) pursued three critical paths: unity of voice, education as empowerment, and economic progress—believing that such measures would provide far deeper transformation than political change could ever achieve,” Mr. Dow continued.
“In this country, a stark contradiction exists with Black people who are powerful yet remain powerless. This idea has resulted in many politicians shying away from openly discussing Black Power—despite its potential to create meaningful community change. Perhaps it is time we ask ourselves: why are our leaders so afraid of these words?”