Earning the most primary votes for city council since the 1980’s, winning 56 out of Philadelphia’s 66 wards (in a field of 28 other Democrats), getting arrested for protesting for school funding in Harrisburg, and giving advice out on Queer Eye can all be accredited to former councilmember at-large Helen Gym.
In 2016, Helen Gym won a seat on Philadelphia’s city council, in 2023, she’s running for Mayor. Last month, Gym announced her resignation from the city council, and in a press conference at William Way Community Center announced her campaign.
“It’s time to elect a proven fighter to protect the city that we call home, and that’s why I’m announcing my run for mayor of Philadelphia.” Then followed her statement with goals, “On my very first day, I will declare a state of emergency and focus all City departments towards the common goal of community safety…Next, I will ensure that we put every public asset and community space on the table as a safe and welcoming place for young people. I will guarantee safe routes to and from school, and we will open and staff rec centers and libraries on nights and weekends.”
Gym joins seven others in the run for mayor, the group currently consists of all Democrats, including ShopRite owner Jeff Brown, former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart, and former city councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Allan Domb. With the mayoral primaries in six months, on May 23rd, 2023, all the candidates are in the midst of their campaigns.
Jeff Brown recently debuted a campaign ad featuring former first lady Michelle Obama, highlighting the impacts of his ShopRites in Philadelphia communities of color. Maria Quiñones-Sánchez has been meeting with city leaders in order to gain support to fix, in her words, “a broken city”, focusing on the importance of Black and Brown leadership and representation in the city government.
Philadelphia has histoically had a lack of representation in its mayor, considering its demographics, and if elected, Quiñones-Sánchez would be the first Latino, Gym would be the first Asian and each would be the first woman as mayor of Philadelphia. This would closely follow Los Angeles’ first woman elected as mayor this month, Karen Bass.
Local elections for city council or mayor may not seem as important as state or federal elections, like for senate or president, but the results of the mayoral election affect our everyday lives. Jim Kenney, the current mayor of Philadelphia was sworn into office in January 2016 and has since then implemented policies that garnered mix widespread attention, including the sugar tax in 2017 and the plastic bag ban that was put in place in the fall of 2021. In addition to implementing new legislation, mayors control what is prioritized and deemed important within a city.
Recently, Mayor Kenney has been criticized for his lack of response to gun violence. After the fatal shooting at the 4th of July celebrations, Mayor Kenney said he was looking forward to not being Mayor, and that he was tired of dealing with the shootings. This response came with outrage from people waiting for an official response, like calling a state of emergency, to the rising amount of gun violence.
In reply to the shooting and Mayor Kenney’s response, Councilmember Gym tweeted, “Jim Kenney may be defeated, but this city won’t be. There are thousands of lives on the line in the remainder of his term and a generation of youth who are looking to us to be the cavalry that Harrisburg and Congress refuse to be. We must deliver, and we must act.”
Gym’s website states her accomplishments as city councilmember at-large (meaning she represented the city as a whole instead of a single ward), notably she has, “campaigned for and won free public transit for children,” and “passed the most expansive ‘Fair Workweek’ law in the nation, ensuring protections for more than 130,000 hourly workers”. As a former public school teacher herself, working at Lowell Elementary School in Olney, she is running her campaign with a focus on public education. Her vision for Philadelphia includes debt-free college, safe and clean communities, a municipal green new deal, and fair taxation.
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In a recent Instagram post, Gym wrote, “We need a leader who understands that our schools are our future-and that it’s time for a Mayor to deliver the safe, quality, education worthy of the dreams of every child and parent.” Philadelphia public schools are facing an unprecedented lack of teachers and are in need of fundamental repairs like heating and cooling, these circumstances make learning near-impossible.
Having a leader who prioritizes public education and understands the importance of teaching the next generation is necessary, and it is clear Helen Gym is ready to fight for us.
To learn more about Helen Gym’s campaign, or to volunteer go to: https://helengym.com/