The year of the indomitable woman in Philadelphia politics
A couple of weeks ago I was the only person in the newsroom when the building's cleaning staff made their rounds. The TVs were blaring one mayoral candidate event or another and I was half writing, half watching. "I'm voting for Lynne," said the cleaning woman toiling behind me.
I was startled by this — she is an African American, a staunch union member (I've seen her at rallies) and still a millennial for a couple more years — not the profile for a typical Abraham supporter. "Why?" I asked her. "Because she's tough," was the response. "She's going to do something about crime."
From Katniss Everdeen to Black Widow, the nation loves kickass women — badasses who not only speak truth to power but can follow it up with an uppercut or two. Sometimes figuratively speaking, sometimes not.
In this political season that will determine candidates for mayoral and city council races, three of the women candidates have some very substantial cred as badasses — Abraham, who is vying for the mayoral candidacy, and whose Wikipedia page lists "Deadliest DA" and "Queen of Death" as nicknames during her 19-year stint as District Attorney; María Quiñones-Sánchez, the incumbent who is defending her council seat for District 7 against a Democratic machine that wants to chew her up and spit her out (she was the only incumbent not endorsed by the Democratic City Committee); and Helen Gym, the high-profile education and immigration activist who is vying to become council person at large.
These aren't endorsements, understand, because AL DÍA News doesn't endorse, and there would be no consensus here anyway (we're a lovingly fractious group when it comes to politics).
But I personally admire some of the qualities of these formidable women: their determination and their willingness to stand for what they believe. Sometimes, because I'm outrageously nerdy — don't tell anyone — I imagine them as superhero characters in the entertaining comic book that is Philadelphia.
The quintessential Abraham moment, for me, was when she delivered the first of the D.A.'s office reports on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
In part I remember it as vividly as I do because at the time I was the managing editor of the Catholic Standard & Times, and I was surrounded by those reacting both publicly and privately to the the facts of the horrifying report. Abraham certainly knew the impact it would have — Philadelphia's is the sixth largest diocese in the nation (with about a million and a half Catholics) and has a long history of blue-collar, union Catholicism — and she didn't once flinch or back down, not even after the spokespeople of Cardinal Justin Rigali, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, accused her of anti-Catholic bias in pursuing the investigation of the priests in the first place, and again in releasing it publicly.
I'm a cradle Catholic, a lifelong proponent of abolishing capital punishment, have a number of dear friends in the priesthood and in the archdiocesan administrative structure, and yet still I consider Abraham a superhero because of her work on this. Had she not ripped the roof off the ugly, hidden places of the Church to let some light in, the process of healing would have surely been longer and even more anguished.
She wasn't the "Queen of Death" to the adults who had been abused as children finally hoping for some small measure of justice and reconciliation through her efforts. Instead she was their fulminatingly effective avenger.
The Democratic City Committee's ward leaders of the 7th District detest Quiñones-Sánchez — so much so, in fact, that they're willing to tie their political "good name" to Manny Morales, Quiñones-Sánchez's opponent who was either too naive or too clueless to hide or delete the racist Facebook posts revealed to be on his personal page.
So why do the ward leaders hate her? My best guess is that it's because she's pretty independent. She takes action without asking for daddy's permission (and let's be clear, in the Philadelphia Democratic world, there are a number of "daddies" asking for obeisance, particularly from aspiring Latino politicians). I don't know Quiñones-Sánchez very well, but at first blush she doesn't seem the maverick type — she's conventional in dress and demeanor. But beneath that must be utter fearlessness — who else dares go it alone? Of course, it's not really alone (especially now that she's got the current and former mayors endorsing her).
The Democratic machine keeps jamming every time it tries to unseat Quiñones-Sánchez, and that's because there are scores of people going out of their way to jam it. As in, the people she represents. As in, the people who vote her in. Yeesh, sometimes you really feel like telling the powers-that-be to buy a clue, don't you?
Before I ever met Gym, I had seen her at a dozen or so rallies and protests. She has been passionately outspoken about every important cause in Philadelphia that touches on human and civil rights: immigration, education, income inequality. She's smart and extremely well-informed, forthright and, well, upright. If she were part of the Avengers, she'd be Captain America. I think it is this very uprightness that makes people tell me — more than either of the other two women I included in this post, even — that they just don't like her.
And when they say it, I have to walk away shaking my head. When did fighting for what you believe become so unpopular?
So there you go. I reserve the right to change any and all other candidates into cartoon characters, as well, before the primaries. Nothing else left to do or say about them, right?
Except that ...
The real superheroes are those of you who make time and cast a vote. See you at the polls May 19th!