Helen Gym was first elected to an At-Large City Council seat in 2016. When she was re-elected in 2019, she won the most votes among all Councilmembers on the ballot. A proud progressive, Gym is the first Asian American woman to serve on Council.
She came into government through community organizing for Chinatown, leading fights there against a proposed Phillies stadium, then a proposed casino, now a proposed Sixers arena. On Council, she chaired the Children and Youth Committee. She resigned her seat in late November to declare her intention to run for mayor, replacing two-term Mayor Jim Kenney.
Since joining Council, Gym has often drawn comparisons — positive and negative — with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The former journalist, educator and mother of three is known to champion historically marginalized communities. Gym is the cofounder of Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook (now Chalkbeat Philadelphia) and the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS). She also co-chairs Local Progress, a national organization that promotes progressive policies regionally.
Although the at-large Councilmember is best known for using her voice — and, at times, a megaphone — to shout out injustices, she’s also made progress in legislation and policy (see below). Her critics complain she doesn’t give a fair shake to business and development priorities, that she’s too quick to criticize her opponents, and that she plays to national politics rather than local solutions.
What you should know about Helen Gym
- SHE IS A PUBLIC SCHOOL ADVOCATE who claims a role in ensuring each school has a full-time nurse and counselor, free high-speed internet to school-age children during Covid, investment in teachers, and funds for new facilities, lead abatement and air conditioning. In 2021, Gym was arrested in the state capitol for protesting school inequity in Harrisburg.
- SHE’S NOT A FAN OF THE PPA and has taken the Parking Authority to task for under-funding the School District of Philadelphia.
- SHE HAS WORKED FOR HOUSING STABILITY. During the pandemic, she created the Emergency Housing Protections Act, which included a local eviction moratorium, a temporary ban on late fees, and required landlords to put tenants on repayment plans. Her Eviction Diversion Program has a 93 percent success rate and has become a model nationwide for renters’ rights by providing low-income tenants with free legal representation.
- SHE HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN YOUTH ANTI-VIOLENCE. Her campaign ended city contracts with agencies that had a documented history of abuse and passed a “ban the box” law that prevents employers from requiring disclosure of juvenile records. Gym also advocated for more funding for violence prevention programs and for developing a Youth Powered Anti-Violence Agenda.
- HER CAMPAIGN FOR HOURLY WORKERS helped usher in one of the nation’s top Fair Workweek laws.
- SHE SUPPORTS TERM LIMITS FOR CITY COUNCIL.
- SHE HAS ADVOCATED FOR A CITYWIDE WEALTH TAX, despite Philly already being one of the highest-taxed cities in America.
- SOCIAL JUSTICE, WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND IMMIGRANT PROTECTIONS ARE CAUSES SHE ESPOUSES.
Endorsements of Helen Gym
AFSCME District Council 47. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees describes itself as “a progressive labor union that represents workers and retirees in the nonprofit, higher education, cultural/arts, and government.” (This includes staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.)
Amistad Movement Power. Much like Free the Ballot, Amistad works to build power on the streets, in the community and at the ballot box.
Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance. This group advocates for AAPI rights across the spectrum, including supporting AAPI voter registration and APPI candidates for office, along with causes like protesting the proposed Sixers stadium for Chinatown and seeking justice for individual community members.
Free the Ballot. This multi-racial grassroots alliance of incarcerated people and their family members, friends and supporters organize to support progressive movement politics, end mass incarceration, and reverse poverty.
Make the Road Action in Pennsylvania. A 13,000-member group of Latinx Pennsylvanians has worked for a Fair Workweek law, protections for renters, legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, and bilingual services for public schools.
One PA. The progressive statewide advocacy group, which grew out of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Says co-director Steve Paul, “We need bold action rooted in the belief that working class Black and Brown people matter more than corporate profits. Helen shares that vision with us — and has the track record to prove it.”
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Philadelphia’s public teachers union endorsed Gym in late January. PTF President Jerry Jordan told the Inquirer that Gym “has been with us when in fact no other [mayoral candidate] was.”
Reclaim Philadelphia. Progressive group inspired by Bernie Sanders.
Straight Ahead. With a mission to “take the abolition movement to the Pennsylvania Capitol,” this group seeks to decarcerate and prevent incarceration. Current efforts: end death by incarceration, and create parole for prisoners who are sick or elderly.
Unite Here Philly. This affiliate of the AFL-CIO represents workers in the hotel, food service, laundry, warehouse and casino gaming industries. Their goals: wages and benefits, health and safety, equity and civil rights.
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Outspoken champion of working-class causes from New York City.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Progressive icon and former presidential hopeful from Vermont.
Working Families Party. This growing third-party — best-known local rep is At-Large Councilmember Kendra Brooks — believes Gym is the best candidate to address Philly’s housing, climate and gun violence crises.
Actors Jane Fonda and Mark Ruffalo.
Citizen coverage of Helen Gym
Videos featuring Helen Gym
Learn more about Helen Gym
From Helen Gym’s website.
From Gym’s social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.
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MORE MAYORAL RACE COVERAGE FROM THE CITIZENPhiladelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym.