What you need to know about Anthony Phillips, the 33-year-old doctor. student vying for a seat on the city council
Former city councilwoman Cherelle Parker has long spoken of the need for Philadelphia to prioritize its “middle neighborhoods,” sounding the alarm about a national trend of declining populations in economically stable black neighborhoods where children can go to good schools, start a career and raise families in the same field.
So when Parker left the council last month to run for mayor next year, she championed as her likely replacement someone who embodies much of that vision.
READ MORE: Philly Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker has resigned and will run for mayor
Anthony Phillips, a 33-year-old Ph.D. student who co-founded a successful nonprofit, Youth Action, at age 14 is the Democratic nominee to replace Parker in the Nov. 8 special election for the 9th District.
The neighborhood stretches along the northern city limit from Stenton in northwest Philadelphia to Lawndale in the lower northeast, and includes many of Parker’s “middle neighborhoods”, such as West Oak Lane. The headquarters is the base of the legendary North West Coalition political organization and was previously held by legendary black politicians Marian Tasco and John White Jr.
Thanks to the district’s heavily Democratic electorate, Phillips is all but guaranteed to trump Republican Roslyn Ross and Libertarian Yusuf Jackson in the special election. He would then serve the final year and change Parker’s term while running for a full four-year term in the May 2023 Democratic primary.
“Anthony Phillips is not a Cosby kid. He’s not a silver spoon person,” Parker said in an interview. “But I think his humble but very strong spiritual, family and community foundations are what makes him such a passion for service, especially when it comes to young people.”
READ MORE: Who is running for mayor of Philadelphia in 2023?
Raised by his mother and grandmother in Nicetown and later in East Mount Airy, where he still lives, Phillips was an academic prodigy, holding an undergraduate degree from Bates College in Maine and a master’s degree in Yale University. He is currently completing a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on a topic close to home — and relevant to the task of preserving stable black communities.
“Basically [my research] examines the black church in Philadelphia and whether it is still a viable institution that meets the needs of people of African descent from a social, economic and political perspective,” he said.
Phillips attends and is a volunteer bus driver at Salem Baptist Church in Abington. Starting at 7:40 a.m. every Sunday, he picks up elderly people who need to go to church.
“I grew up in the black church,” he said. “The black church is basically where I learned about service.”
Phillips talks a lot about “excellence”.
The students selected to take rigorous courses in academic and career coaching by one of the nonprofits he works at? “I make sure they have that level of excellence in everything they do, from communications to project planning.”
And what will he be working on as a Council member? “We need to have excellent trade corridors. We must have excellent schools. And we must have an excellent quality of life.
The 9th arrondissement, which is about two-thirds black, fell by nearly 1,000 people in the last census — not a huge drop, but not a good sign in a city that has grown in population overall.
“People will leave because people want top-notch trade corridors, they want top-notch schools, and they want their quality of life and their peace,” he said.
Phillips first met Parker when she spoke at a Youth Action event while he was still in high school. He then interned in her office when she was a state representative and became a member of the Democratic 50th Ward committee, which she leads.
Like Parker, Phillips is a political centrist — a “pragmatic Democrat,” as he puts it — who is unlikely to align himself with the Council’s progressive wing.
“There are things I love about Bernie [Sanders]but I guess I’m a lot more pragmatic,” Phillips said.
After Parker asked him to consider replacing her, Phillips said he was unsure about stepping into the spotlight and whether he would have the patience to deal with the slow pace of change in government.
“Things don’t move in politics the way they move when you work with young people,” he said.
His Youth Action students changed their minds, he says.
“They said, ‘You’ve been telling us about civic engagement all these years and now you’re about to go into hiding,'” he said. said, ‘Let’s do it’.”