May 18, 2023
Earlier this week, some Philly residents heading to the polls might have found eye-catching pieces of campaign literature hanging from their front doors . The front featured a call to "build 76 Place," the proposed Sixers arena near 10th and Market streets, in bold red text against a bright blue background. The back had another ask: vote Cherelle Parker for mayor and Mark Squilla for City Council.
At first glance, one might have assumed the candidates put this together themselves. But neither said they had heard of the door hanger, let alone endorsed the arena plans, in the aftermath of the May 16 primary election.
"We have not seen this literature until just now, but Cherelle Parker has been unwavering on her position on the 76ers Arena — we simply do not have enough information to make an informed decision," her senior advisor Aren Platt said via email.
"This is not an endorsement of the 76 Place by CM Squilla," his office said via email. "He has been clear that no decisions will be made until the studies are reviewed and he is continuing on this path."
The flyer was paid for by IBEW 98, the electricians' union which endorsed Squilla for reelection to City Council's First District and Parker as the Democratic candidate for mayor. Parker won that nomination Tuesday night with nearly 78,000 votes, beating her closest challenger Rebecca Rhynhart by about 10 percentage points.
Although Parker and Squilla did not commission the door hanger, it sparked reaction on social media among opponents of the arena proposal, who have argued the building would gentrify the surrounding area and displace nearby Chinatown residents. Some critics took the messaging as a tacit nod of support from the presumptive future mayor of the city and the councilmember who represents the district where the proposed site is located.
holy shit THIS is the cherelle parker/mark squilla e-day lit drop?? 👀 pic.twitter.com/cvCqvxpxj6— Sarah Bishop-Stone (@sbishopstone) May 16, 2023
This is a disgusting and old tactic that labor unions have unfortunately relied on way too many times throughout history. Bargaining for crumbs from the political machine while using marginalized communities as pawns. https://t.co/Hds4TLkAoJ— "kim" (@tkdphl) May 17, 2023
One of those critics was Debbie Wei, the founder of Asian Americans United, who has been at the forefront of the No Arena in Chinatown movement.
"Ok. Enough is enough," she tweeted, tagging Councilmember Squilla and other accounts. "Don't even pretend this is a fair game now. I am disgusted. I have no words."
Wei did not respond to requests for further comment. In an emailed statement, IBEW said: "The door hanger in question is printed on both sides. The one side states our strong support for Cherelle Parker for Mayor and Mark Squilla for City Council. The reverse side encourages residents to support the construction of the new 76ers arena, a project of paramount importance to IBEW Local 98 and all of the Building Trades. They are two separate and distinct messages."
In the lead-up to the primary election, neither Parker nor Squilla took a definitive stance on the arena, refusing to dismiss it or support it completely. Speaking to CBS last month, Parker argued that "Philadelphia doesn't have the luxury of engaging in reflexive opposition to any project that has the potential to offer a game-changing economic impact, especially for Black and Brown workers and businesses," while noting the need for community input and a full assessment of economic impact.
Squilla has echoed this neutral stance, claiming he needs more information before making his decision. He also has pledged to share any legislation regarding the arena with Chinatown organizers at least 30 days before it is introduced in City Council. He "understands that the trades are supportive of the arena project," his office said.
Still, some already have declared Parker's victory — which, given Philly's overwhelmingly Democratic makeup, will almost certainly make her mayor after the November general election — a win for the proposal. Parker has the endorsement of not just IBEW 98, but also the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, an umbrella organization representing more than 50 building unions. She frequently has emphasized job creation and the development of commercial corridors on the campaign trail, concerns that could align with the $1.3 billion proposal in the East Market Street corridor.
That proposal is the subject of a City Hall-commissioned impact study announced last month. Given both Parker and Squilla's calls for more information, the study could form the basis of their eventual decisions — although Parker at least wouldn't make any calls until 2024, after the November election for mayor.
The Sixers proposed arena would be located between 10th and 11th streets and Market and Filbert streets, immediately adjacent to the city's Chinatown neighborhood.
This article was updated with a comment from IBEW.