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Councilwoman at Large Helen Gym
Helen Gym, elected for an at Large council seat in 2016, is the first Asian American to hold the post. In the photo, Gym delivers unveiling of a legislative package concerning abortion. Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

Helen Gym resigns from city council, anticipates mayoral race

The former city councilwoman at-large ignites a progressive movement in the city’s race for mayor.

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Vacant chairs in Philadelphia City Council chambers are ever more present following a fifth resignation this week from now-former city councilwoman Helen Gym, who is expected to put her at-large experience to the test in a bid for mayor. 

Gym could join an already competitive race. She’ll face former colleagues from her city council days and other officials on the campaign trail, where candidates will spend, give or take, six months swaying Philadelphians to their camp to replace term-limited Jim Kenney, the seventh democrat in the race to do so. 

"I've felt like all my life I've never been afraid to take on really challenging fights," Gym noted. Although a possible announcement is pending, Gym is hopeful of her ability to "deliver real solutions when people told us it was impossible to win."  

The next elected Mayor is also poised to ascend on the office’s centennial birthday and will be tasked with reigning in mayoral affairs in a shaky political context, frequently described as a crossroads by rising nominees. 

Whispers of the at-large councilwoman's inevitable announcement were passed among city insiders, although Gym never confirmed her bid directly. 

But a meeting in council last week made it readily apparent that Gym — who delivered a speech to change residency requirements for new city hires — left those in attendance with the impression that the speech would be her last, according to the Inquirer. 

After the meeting concluded, Darrell Clarke, City Council president, told reporters that “everybody knows it — there’s a likelihood that the Councilwoman is going to resign and run for mayor.”  

“If that wasn’t an announcement, I don’t know what else is,” Clarke said.

In the meantime, though, Gym says she isn't concerned with the horse race and is looking to put the city's focus back on the people. "It's how I've always done my work," she said. 

Too few have been brought into leadership and political fold. It often feels like gatekeeping rather than actual leadership development.

Gym, a Democrat and former public school teacher, assumed office in 2016 and was re-elected for a second term. Her early life is marked by her activism and borne of grassroots movements, where Gym's progressive resume is best laid out. 

"The answers are still in our communities. When I listened to so many people with the power, titles, and money to make a difference, a lot of times, you didn't hear any answers from them. But I never felt that when I was in communities. I only saw purpose and hope and action."

She’s routinely described as a champion in the city’s progressive movement and has stood alongside councilwomen Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party and Jamie Gauthier [D-3] to address cogent Democratic issues publicly, often jointly. 

In mid-September, Gym, Gauthier, and Brooks released a comprehensive legislative package to further safeguard abortion rights in Philadelphia in response to a Supreme Court’s ruling in June that removed protections at a federal level, sending chills down the nation’s spine.

“The end of federal protections for the right to an abortion means cities like ours, cities like Philadelphia that support bodily autonomy and human dignity are jumping into action,” Gym said at the time of the bill’s unveiling. 

The package, forged by the trio, included measures to strengthen privacy laws, limiting the city’s ability to share information relevant to an abortion if a lawsuit is leveled from out-of-state actors aiming to punish abortion seekers in Philadelphia. 

Privacy was Gym’s purview, while Gauthier took on countersuits, more specifically, the ability for a person to seek damages lost from a legal battle brought from out-of-state.

Brooks addressed employee rights and crafted language aimed at workplace protections to prevent employer retaliation by way of an update to anti-discrimination laws. Brooks is the first Working Families Party member to be elected to Council. 

Gym also publicly defended Gauthier and Brooks when the fallout from the University City Townhomes scandal enveloped Gauthier’s office and went as far as to release a joint statement in support of her colleagues. The written statement was delivered jointly by Brooks and Gym. 

And in December 2021, the three were celebrated for an eviction diversion program that directs landlords to mediate with trained housing counselors and apply for rent assistance before resorting to vacating a unit, a legislation Gym championed during her second term in council.

Philadelphia, according to the city’s website, had productive funding in the amount of $200 million, disbursed to some 40,000 families, “in part due to the diversion mandate on rent assistance filing,” a release wrote. 

"I don't just talk about it. I prove it. I came in, and there were 20 thousand evictions every single year. When people told us it was impossible to change that, and in fact, that evictions were necessary to make the system run, we ended that. We ended it," Gym underlined. 

Given its success, including praise from the White House, the program successfully secured an 18-month extension and will remain in place until June 2024. 

But while Gym’s awaited bid wasn’t immediately apparent, she’d quietly launched a website reminiscent of a campaign platform, similar to what María Quiñones Sánchez did in early August, according to previous AL DÍA reporting. 

"My job is to raise Philadelphian's voices. To put us on a path where we're leading the charge for what's needed for our communities and not waiting for things to happen to us. When we do that, everything becomes possible," Gym said. 

Philadelphia’s Home Charter mandates councilmembers to resign before pursuing other elected offices, which prompted numerous officials to step down, and subsequently publicly launch their bids. 

Of the former officials in the race, in order of announcement, are all Democrats – including María Quiñones-Sánchez [D-7], Cherelle Parker [D-9], Derek Green [at-large], Rebecca Rhynhart, former city controller, and Allan Domb [at-large]. 

Many of Philadelphia’s former local officials hit the ground running and have initiated campaigning events and tours to cover considerable ground in the city.

Still, Gym is confident she's had a firm grasp on communities not often on the political mainstream. "Too few have been brought into leadership and political fold. It often feels like gatekeeping rather than actual leadership development."

"I'm just hyper-aware of what it feels like to be completely pushed to the margins. I am also aware that everything I try to do engages the work of communities all across the city of Philadelphia."

Outside of council premises, grocer giant Jeff Brown also joined the crowded race, proffering a platform that breaks away from government. 

Brown, a Democrat and a fourth-generation inheritor of his business, is known for opening a number of ShopRite stores in otherwise neglected areas of the city, which could gain him political favorability despite having no political record. 

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