I was born in Baltimore. My father was finishing up his last year in college at the University of Maryland (Go Terrapins!) after having spent so much of his post-high school years either juggling three jobs to make ends meet, or freezing to death at a remote NORAD post in Thule, Greenland, as Private First Class Flowers.
This time in Maryland was a chance to finally have a watered-down version of the college experience. And since daddy had recently married my mother Lucy, the two of them had a sweet little apartment in the Druid Hill section of the city. By my calculations, I was conceived in March of 1961 and made my entrance into the world on December 4th of that year. The fact that I only spent one month in Charm City before my parents carted me back home to their native Philadelphia doesn’t change the fact that I am a Baltimore native. In fact, my Twitter bio, and in fact every other bio that I have reads “Baltimore born, Philly bred.”
In other words, I am technically not “from here.”
However, I have spent 734 of my 735 months on earth in Philadelphia and its suburbs. My parents were born in West Philadelphia, as were my grandparents. All of my siblings were born in different hospitals in and around the city, including Pennsylvania, Einstein, HUP and Lankenau. We all went to grade school, high school and college here, raised families here, worked here, and in the case of my parents, grandparents and one brother, died and are buried here. So while I had a lovely early vacation south of the Mason Dixon, I am for all intents and purposes, “from here.”
However, if someone were to point out that I am not a native Philadelphian, I’d have absolutely no problem admitting that accurate fact. I am a native Baltimorean…hon. And if they did accuse me of being from somewhere else, I would not accuse them of being racist or xenophobic.
Funny how other people don’t seem to agree.
This past weekend, I got into a bit of a social media dust up with fans and supporters of Helen Gym. The former city councilwoman and education gadfly/activist is posting a lot of things on social media trying to advance her mayoral candidacy. Some are substantive, and establish just how “progressive” she is. Although Gym is trying to cover up her past criticism of the police and law enforcement, and has backed away from her open and full-throated support for safe injection sites, her attempted move to the middle isn’t fooling anyone.
It’s not really meant to. Gym is playing a political shell game, trying to outlast her opponents by refusing to be nailed down on specifics all the while riding high on her reputation as a radical left activist in a city that has always been middle-of-the-road, working-class Democrat. That’s why another person who was not “from here,” New York native Ed Rendell, was able to become more Philadelphian than Billy Penn. He understood the ethos, the priorities and the needs of the average Philadelphian: safe streets, clean streets, solid wages, a booster for our sports teams and someone who did not put Gruyère on his cheesesteak.
Which brings me to Helen. This weekend, she tweeted out a picture of a cheesesteak slathered in ketchup and a host of other disgusting things and wrote “If Jeff Brown becomes mayor, expect more of this.” I’m not sure why she decided to pick on Brown, a grocery store magnate who is garnering a lot of support among African Americans, but it’s probably because she herself is having a hard time making inroads with that demographic. It was a nasty, petty little dig at a competitor.
And because it involved cheesesteaks, and because it was so pretentious from a woman who didn’t even arrive in the City of Cheesesteaks until she enrolled at Penn, which meant she spent almost twenty years “not here,” I responded with this:
“You are not from here. You will never be from here. You’re an outsider. You do not know us, we do not trust you, you will never get us, you are an interloper. You are like the woman who marries the man and immediately sets out to change him. You mock us. You patronize us. NeverGym”
That caused Gym’s campaign manager Brendan McPhillips to tweet this, making sure not to include me:
“How many boxes of Franzia did Christine drink before firing off that tweet?” To be honest, I was not offended by the suggestion that I am a drunk. I was upset that anyone would think I drink my wine from a box. I am strictly a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo gal, one glass on alternate Saturdays.
But Brendan, who helped foist a debilitated John Fetterman on the state of Pennsylvania last year, triggered a storm of responses with the same general theme: Christine is a racist and a xenophobe. This tweet from campaign staffer Maggie Hart was typical:
“This kind of anti-Asian racism is obviously disgusting, but also lol @ the notion ‘she sets out to change us.’ Helen put safe drinking water, nurses and counselors back in public schools, she won fair schedules for 130,000 workers and cut evictions by 70% Maybe change is good!”
Another woman who said she was not going to vote for Helen but that she had changed her mind because of my tweet had this to say:
“I wasn’t going to vote for Gym for my own reasons, but this has been a pretty convincing argument to make sure these racist f*cks get theirs.”
There were many other tweets, most of which simply trolled me as a xenophobe because I noted that Gym was from Seattle by way of Ohio. One writer, an attorney named Adam Bonin whose bio quotes him as a “high powered lawyer” tried to engage me in a conversation about why I would question Gym’s origins when I had no apparent problem with the fact that former mayor John Street was from Norristown or Richardson Dilworth of the famous plaza was from somewhere else, but he would not answer with a “yes” or a “no” as to why accurately stating that someone who was born in another city is somehow racist.
And this is the state of the new Democratic party in Philadelphia: play the race card, or the homophobe card, or the transphobe card, or the sexist card, or the xenophobe card whenever you can. It’s like throwing things at the wall and seeing what will stick. It is the political version of a toxic Jackson Pollock painting. And it is, in its extremes, becoming quite laughable.
I am from Baltimore, and I am not “from here,” but I have Philadelphia in my blood, mixed in with some plasma from Delaware County. Gym is not “from here,” and only came here when she was already two decades into her life. You might take issue with my comments about her authenticity as a Philadelphian. But to suggest that even, ahem, suggesting she is from another city is an anti-Asian slur is actually an insult to Asians who have suffered discrimination. Moreover, as an attorney who has handled numerous asylum cases and knows what persecution based on ethnicity looks like, this is a crass attempt on the part of her campaign and her supporters to traffic in dangerous innuendo, and deflect attention from the candidate’s manifold shortcomings.
So as one person who is not “from here” to another who is neither “from here” nor understands what it means to have been raised in the city of brotherly love, I would respectfully suggest that she keep her cheesesteak cracks to a minimum. The lack of authenticity and dishonest pandering smell worse than the onions on that sandwich.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and (nearly) lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61