Where to begin with Philadelphia’s activist in chief?
Since being elected to City Council in 2015, former community organizer Helen Gym has taken every opportunity to demagogue, harangue, and put herself in front of a camera, while simultaneously presiding over a steep decline in every major metric of livability for the people she claims to be fighting for — including, of course, the number of people living.
Gym is the most vocal progressive in the city, and the one most closely allied with former criminal defense attorney Larry Krasner. She has, belatedly while running for mayor, realized there is a homicide crisis in Philadelphia — though she has not, to my knowledge, acknowledged that it began when her preferred candidate as District Attorney broke out of a crowded field in 2017 and promptly gutted that office in the name of “equity.”
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Gym has based her entire political persona, and the mayoral candidacy that has been an open secret since she was first elected to Council, on taking umbrage and responding with righteous fury.
That would include deliberately getting arrested in Harrisburg’s Capitol Dome while fighting for “fair funding” for Philadelphia’s public schools, and then immediately sharing the clip out on social media. Letter from Birmingham Jail, this was not.
Or protesting a Trump executive order on refugees (of course, Gym is the one with the megaphone).
Or, my personal favorite story about Gym (about Philly politics, ever?) — when she posed her child in front of a West Philly food truck, and apparently threatened to shut down the owners, to protest their supposed anti-Asian bias. It turns out they were Vietnamese. According to the owners, “the clash… lasted for a few minutes and ended with Gym demanding that they change their name and design. [The owners] both claim that Gym threatened to get them banned… also make trouble for them in other ways.”
Gym’s progressive brand, which plays perfectly with the Woke crowd that makes up a sizable portion of Philadelphia’s Democratic primary-voting electorate, is at its essence centered on grievance. Its modus operandi is to be angry — outraged! — that the world is unfair, that inequities exist all around us, that our current system of government, law enforcement and economics has not yielded a perfect system amongst an imperfect population. It is a full-time job for such people to be the most furious person in the room, and to channel this fury publicly.
This professional offense-taking has made Gym what Elizabeth Warren is to the U.S. Senate and AOC is to the House: the first to get to the protest, the first to jump in front of a camera, and the first to share it on Instagram. This involves a lot of “advocating for” marginalized communities — Gym and her voting base are constantly “fed up,” exhausted but tireless in their efforts. The offense-taking has been on full display in the mayoral primary, where Gym has been desperate to generate traction despite being outflanked with progressive ward leaders and the Inquirer by former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. Witness her pathetic attempt to create a local “Nevertheless, She Persisted” moment at a recent forum.
Readers will please let me know when the Helen Gym campaign-branded mug “I personally think that Jeff Brown sounds like an angry man” is available for $35.
The main problem with the progressive ideology that Gym personifies is that being angry about inequities is not a sufficient basis for holding office, or wielding power. The furor at society and the “way things are” is a self-conscious, blinding fury; it points back to the angriest person as the one most worthy of attention. In turn, progressives are blind to the harms their policies cause, and are the quickest to punish and shut out any dissent from the views they espouse. Just look at how the city is doing with people like Helen Gym and Larry Krasner holding the levers of power, and their supporters in the progressive media in charge of shaping the narrative.
It’s a blinding fury that allows people like Gym to claim they are fighting for disenfranchised people while advocating for policies that are actively hurting them — policies that these people, themselves, hate.
Nobody was louder than Gym in pushing to defund the police after the killing of George Floyd. Nobody has been more energetic in fighting for “safe” heroin injection sites over the concerns of devastated Kensington residents, whose former working-class, normal neighborhood has been transformed into an internationally known hellscape. Nobody has been more vocal in advocating that more money be funneled into Philadelphia’s public schools, a very few of which (in better neighborhoods) are decent, and most of which can nearly guarantee their alumni a future lifetime of poverty, illiteracy, and reliance on the government.
Nobody else on the mayoral stage has helped run a charter school, while denying mostly black Philadelphia school-kids a spot in one.
Nor has any current mayoral candidate been married to a pharmaceutical executive whose drugs are poisoning people in our streets right now — all while claiming righteous indignation at anybody who doesn’t espouse the approved beliefs about needle-sharing programs.
And of course, no Philadelphia politician besides Gym would have the gall to speak over two black Democrats when they tried to give a nuanced answer on law enforcement in the black community:
You know, because she knows better than them what policies will help black Philadelphians.
The real problem with Helen Gym is the shallowness that has catapulted irritating, self-centered, and under-informed people like her into the spotlight. There are many Philadelphians, mostly young ones, who are conditioned to interpret the way she speaks, her righteous indignation and use of academic sociological terms, as favorable and trustworthy. This group is invariably college-educated, they vote in primaries, and they are able to avoid the outcomes of the policies they advocate: the shootings, the burdens on the shopkeepers whose stores are now the frequent site of shoplifting and looting, the addicts left to sway on the El rather than be committed (voluntarily or not) for treatment.
They don’t have to care about the repercussions because from gentrified Passyunk, Fishtown or Mt Airy, they will never face them.
They are like Helen Gym: insulated, angry, self-conscious of their own privilege and thus quick to elevate themselves as the saviors of the marginalized, whether or not those people will actually support the policies they’re advocating for (they won’t). So they get mad, they “organize,” they post their #PetsForHelen on Twitter, they make super awesome signs for the next protest, and then they go to brunch.
Who are these voters who are most likely to support Helen Gym in the primary — and possibly earn her a term or two running a city that’s already moving swiftly backwards in every metric of crime and livability? They are young. They are mad. They have at least a bachelor’s degree. They hate their parents but they still get a teensy allowance — not that they ever acknowledge that to their similarly placed friends.
And the voters least likely to support Helen Gym in May? Likely, the 64 percent of Philadelphia residents who have heard gunshots on their block in the last year.
Albert Eisenberg is an entrepreneur and political strategist based in Charleston, SC, and Philadelphia. He has been featured on RealClearPolitics, Newsweek, Fox News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and elsewhere. @Albydelphia