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28 Apr 2024

Hanging In The Hall-Playground politics

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April 28, 2024 Category: Election 2024 Posted by:

On Thursday, eight of Mayor Cherelle Parker’s picks for Philadelphia’s School Board were passed by City Council. But the rejection of the ninth one is about to test some relationships.


By Denise Clay-Murray

A few years ago, I wrote a column for the SUN entitled “Fisher Price Politics” about the School District of Philadelphia. The premise of that column was that the school district, which the Commonwealth controlled at that time, was being mistreated like a spoiled kid would treat his or her toys.

The argument I was making in that column was that the school district deserved to have someone taking care of it that didn’t want to throw it up against the wall and break it. So, it needed to be given back to the parents who wanted to show it some love.

Since then, the School District of Philadelphia has been restored to local control. Under the law creating the school takeover in 2001, the School Reform Commission board could decide to vote itself out of existence. In 2017, with encouragement from former Mayor Jim Kenney and former Gov. Tom Wolf, the SRC did just that, giving the district back to the people who cared about it.

As a part of that transition, Kenney appointed Joyce Wilkerson chair of the SRC in 2016. Wilkerson, chief of staff for former Mayor John Street, represented a steady hand that would lead this change.

And it’s Wilkerson that made me think about my previous column.

On Thursday, Council approved eight of Mayor Cherelle Parker’s nominees for Philadelphia’s school board. This was after a day-long Committee of the Whole meeting on Friday where current Board chair Reginald Streater was plied with questions from Council members about whether or not he, and the other returning board members, were fair to Charter School operators, especially the Black ones.

The ninth member, the one whose nomination wasn’t entertained during a meeting that ended shortly before the first pitch of that night’s Phillies-Chicago White Sox game, was Joyce Wilkerson.

According to Council President Kenyatta Johnson, Wilkerson had a problem best illustrated in the song from the musical “Hamilton’s “Cabinet Battle #1” — she didn’t have the votes.

“Currently, she doesn’t have enough support or the votes to move forward,” Johnson said. “We’ll continue to work with the administration in terms of next steps, but at this time, [Wilkerson’s] nomination will not be moving forward.”

For the reporters at the Council meeting, many of whom had missed the Phillies’ first pitch on Friday to cover the Committee of the Whole meeting, that answer wasn’t good enough. So, Johnson, and education committee chair Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, kept getting asked what the deal was, and if the perception of unfairness toward charter schools was what was keeping Wilkerson off the board.

The issues with Wilkerson’s nomination had nothing to do with the issues he brought up regarding Black-managed charters, Thomas said.

“We’re not blaming a person for a problem with the system,” he said. “This is an institutional problem.”

But while Council wanted to talk next steps, a statement was issued by Parker’s office that pretty much drew her line in the sand.

“I continue to support my entire slate of nine nominees, including Joyce Wilkerson,” she said in the statement. “I selected nominees who wholeheartedly share my vision for public education in our city.”


Personally, I don’t know why anyone thought that Mayor Parker wouldn’t throw the weight of her office behind Wilkerson. She’s not the sort that backs down from a fight.

However, I’m kind of confused about how this became one. Wilkerson has been touted by a great many people as someone who knows how government works. She’s also known as someone who has a low B.S. tolerance, something she shares with the mayor.

Well, in any case, the next round of debate concerning Wilkerson’s nomination is coming up sooner rather than later. As I was writing this column, word came down that the Committee of the Whole will be meeting at 1p.m. on Monday to reconsider it.

But no matter what happens, it’s going to be interesting to see what the relationship between Parker, who was endorsed by most of Council when she ran for the office, and City Council looks like going forward.

I guess it’ll depend on whether or not someone threw sand in someone’s face on this particular playground.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, The Philadelphia Sunday SUN, the author’s organization, committee, or other group or individual.

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