A Q&A with Sinceré Harris

A one-on-one conversation with Cherelle Parker’s campaign manager on what Democrats can learn from the historic primary win

One major player in Parker’s success has been Campaign Manager Sinceré Harris (center).

One major player in Parker’s success has been Campaign Manager Sinceré Harris (center). Cherelle Parker for Mayor

Much of Philadelphia’s focus has turned to Cherelle Parker after her historic win in the mayoral primary election. But Parker – who’s poised to become the city’s first female mayor – didn’t get there on her own. One major player in Parker’s success has been Campaign Manager Sinceré Harris. 

City & State spoke with Harris – the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party who is currently associate director for intergovernmental affairs, climate & environment in the Biden administration – about what drew her to Parker’s campaign, how her political experience came into play in the primary and what Parker’s win means for Democrats in Pennsylvania.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

How did you approach Parker’s campaign and what priorities did you discuss from the beginning?

We discussed running an authentic campaign – an authentically Philly campaign. Those two sound the same but they are different things to Cherelle and her voice. She received a lot of feedback about her style and that she should change this or that – so not changing who she was, was important. That dovetails into running a very “From Philly, for Philly” campaign that understands middle neighborhoods and a lot of the communities across the city. For her being born and raised here, we were making sure that was a guiding light in addition to her values and her various positions. And I think we did a pretty decent job of maintaining that goal. 

She’s from the Northwest and she has a lot of pride in being the 50th ward leader, but we were making sure the entire city – from the West to the Northeast and to the South – fully understood that she was running for neighborhoods across the city and could relate to the average working Philadelphian regardless of where they lived. We were making sure to broaden our coalition and prove she could run citywide. 

If you’ve had a conversation with Cherelle, you know she wants to be unapologetic about who she is. Would you agree?

That’s what attracted me to her and it’s why I felt very strongly about showing up and leaving my job: She was the right candidate. I don’t have enough words to stress how important that was and how helpful it was for me personally and for what ended up being our victory. I think that was a huge key to our success. I think that’s how we actually attracted pieces of that coalition, because with Cherelle, people felt like they knew what they were getting. 

Cherelle doesn’t change who she is ... We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.
– Sinceré Harris on Philadelphia’s general election this fall.

How did you apply your previous experience to the campaign?

I have seen a lot of campaigns – from state representative, where you typically don’t do a lot of television, to governor and U.S. senator and president, where you have a huge amount of television and varying levels of control. 

One of the reasons why this race was attractive to me was because it was sort of that sweet spot in the middle. It’s very Philly – it’s very much a city of neighborhoods. But if you’re going to become mayor, you have to put together a high-functioning campaign where you have a robust paid media strategy – and that means you need email, radio, television and a growing digital presence. It’s also local enough where you have to have boots on the ground. You must have a strong operation and know the fight’s going to be in the streets. 

Honestly, the race unfolded the way we thought it would. In my experience in races where candidates – like Joe Biden and Tom Wolf – started out as not the favorite – you just don’t let that deter you. 

What do you think are some of the takeaways Democrats can learn from this primary election, whether that be those running statewide or just in Philadelphia?

Cherelle’s win shows that listening to people you want to represent and how they feel, those middle- and working-class neighborhoods, it’s really important you don’t stray from that and feed into national narratives. 

Before you roll out policies, you listen to the people on the ground. I think bread-and-butter issues should always be first and foremost, and then when we get to some other issues, you should always be listening to the communities you are hoping to be lucky enough to represent. 

This election makes it safe to say Twitter doesn’t reflect real life, correct?

Stay off Twitter. If you’re going to be on Twitter, take it with a grain of salt. Twitter is definitely not real life. The echo sphere that sort of ripples through Twitter is skewed toward one end of the party, or both parties, and that’s fine. I feel strongly that there’s a lane for the spectrum … You just have to keep things in perspective, and a lot of narratives that are driven on Twitter very rarely reflect what is happening on the ground.  

We had opponents who scored huge celebrity endorsements. But I would argue those only doubled down on securing voters who were kind of already in their camp, as opposed to looking outside that base, growing that and making sure the average Philadelphian was represented in engagement and outreach. 

How are you planning to maintain your momentum heading toward the general election? 

I think we don’t change. Cherelle doesn’t change who she is. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. The biggest thing is making sure folks realize that the whole election wasn’t on May 16 and that the general election is important, especially as we look beyond 2023.