Clarke and his two brothers were raised in a two-story Strawberry Mansion rowhome.
His mother was a government employee at Veterans Affairs. His dad worked at the long-gone Freihofer’s bakery when Clarke was little, then at Virnelson’s Bakery, where he was also a union officer.
He was a gifted athlete, and a good enough defensive back for Strawberry Mansion and Edison Highs that he thought he had a shot at a football scholarship. That never materialized, though, and after his studies at Philadelphia Community College were aborted by two consecutive faculty strikes in the 1970s, Clarke attended a now-defunct technical institute. That was it for his formal education.
Former mayor John Street first brought Clarke into city government, hiring him as a lowly Council aide more than 30 years ago. It was Street who groomed Clarke, showing him the levers of power in their North Philadelphia district. And it was Street who made Clarke his political heir, bequeathing his lieutenant his North Philadelphia Council seat when he ascended to the mayor’s office.more » « less