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Helen Gym for Mayor
There is one clear progressive choice to be Philadelphia's 100th mayor
Brandon Johnson will be sworn in as the Mayor of Chicago next week. Frankly I’ve been envious of my Chicago friends ever since Johnson, a public school teacher and union organizer, upset conservative DINO Paul Vallas to become the Windy City’s mayor-elect. To see one of Philadelphia’s closest-peer cities elect an energetic progressive leader while our own mayor is so checked out that he is openly pining for the day his term ends — how could I not be a little jealous?
The good news in Philadelphia is that we — and if you’re reading this, there’s a disproportionately high chance that this includes you — have a chance to follow Chicago’s example when we go to the polls next week, by voting for Helen Gym.
The core argument for Gym’s candidacy is simple: In a deep-blue city where broader electability is not a concern and the winner of next week’s Democratic primary is a virtual lock to become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor, she is the only one of the six main candidates who is running from the party’s left flank. She is the loudest voice in the race for supporting public education and advocating a more holistic approach to violence-prevention. She has a long track record of organizing and agitating for marginalized groups across the city, from inequality in schools to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Her accomplishments in her seven years on City Council include the eviction diversion program and the Fair Workweek ordinance, two of the best things our municipal government has done in my years as a Philadelphian.
In Gym’s case it is illustrative to consider who her biggest supporters and detractors are. To a person, everyone I know who is involved in grassroots local politics is enthusiastically in Gym’s corner. My favorite politician who represents me at any level, State Senator Nikil Saval, is an enthusiastic supporter. The endorser bloc of Kendra Brooks, Elizabeth Fiedler, and Rick Krajewski reads like an all-star team of local progressive backers, to say nothing of unions and activist groups like the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and Reclaim Philadelphia. Even national progressive leaders are lending their support, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Bernie Sanders. On the other hand, no one is trying harder to stop her campaign than conservative mega-donor Jeffrey Yass, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on anti-Gym campaign ads. Which side sounds like the one you want to be on?
I don’t believe it’s healthy to paper over the flaws of politicians you like (a philosophy I wish more Democrats were sympathetic to), and in fairness, Gym’s are numerous. She has obfuscated her ties to AmerisourceBergen, the pharmaceutical company whom the federal government has sued for its role in fueling the opioid crisis — and where Gym’s husband worked as an executive. This conflict of interest presumably explains her contemptible vote against a 2019 municipal bill to curtail pharmaceutical gifting. I’ve never heard her offer a non-defensive explanation for how she squares her anti-charter rhetoric with the fact that she herself cofounded a charter school. And then there was the Union League incident in January, when Gym went to a party at a notorious conservative social club mere days after she denounced the group for honoring Ron DeSantis. The implication of such brazen hypocrisy, corroborated by her explanation in her weak apology, is that the self-styled populist firebrand somehow doesn’t understand the issue with privately palling around with the people she publicly identifies as problematic. I wish there were a genuine progressive leader in the race who did not come with such baggage.
Yet the question before Philadelphians this week is not which candidate you would trust with your social calendar, but who has the best plan and vision for the city. When it comes to supporting students and tenants, defending vulnerable residents, and making our city a safer and more-equitable place, there is a clear answer to who is most likely to do the right thing, or at least who would be most easily nudged in that direction. Please do your part on Tuesday (or whenever you vote) to elect Helen Gym as Philadelphia’s 100th Mayor!
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