Saturday, July 12, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Gym, class hero

Can a liberal activist like Helen Gym get elected mayor of Philadelphia?

Gym, class hero

Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education, speaks at a rally outside the School District of Philadelphia, attended by American Federation of Teachers union members, teachers, supporters and students.
Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education, speaks at a rally outside the School District of Philadelphia, attended by American Federation of Teachers union members, teachers, supporters and students. Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia's next mayor?

That’s what happens when you develop a rep as perhaps Philadelphia’s preeminent public agitator. Relentless, whip-smart, meticulously prepared and utterly fearless, [Helen] Gym—a private citizen who works without the heft of any meaningful institutional support—has managed to build herself one of the city’s largest bully pulpits.

And bully she does. Her foes are “hilarious and dishonest.” Education reformers are “corporate raiders” and “party shills.” Columnists she disagrees with are operating a “Corbett PR flack machine.” And that’s just a sample of a 10-day run on Gym’s Twitter feed. She’s equally relentless when face-to-face with her targets.

I'm looking forward to reading the entire piece by Patrick Kerkstra, which -- based on the headline -- delves into the possibility that Gym might run for mayor in 2015, which will be upon us sooner than we realize. Look, it's ridiculous that Philadelphia has never had a woman as mayor, but electing a fierce, never-held-public-office advocate for public education would say so much more than just that. It also fair to say that she'd be a super long-shot -- Philadelphia has always elected machine-tied members of the Boys Club because they've rigged things so it's hard not to.

But certainly a candidate like Gym (another fantastic if fantastical name someone threw at me recently was homeless advocate Sister Mary Scullion), if not Gym herself, would answer the question of whether Philadelphia is feeling the liberal winds that are buffeting other cities like our neighbor to the north, New York. This week The Nation has a good in-depth look at how a seemingly true progressive, Bill de Blasio, was elected mayor of NYC in November.

Here's the nut:

But I would argue that the de Blasio moment reflects something deeper than shifting generational political allegiances or a delayed backlash against the Democratic Party’s Wall Street love affair. It represents a potentially profound challenge to the dominant economic policy arguments of the last two generations, a long overdue electoral response to the corporate offensive launched by the global elite in the mid-1970s.

We've certainly seen the ripples of that here in Philadelphia, from Comcast's outsized influence in civic affairs (even whether your employer grants sick leave) to the keen interest that the likes of Bill Gates and the Waltons (as in the Wal-Mart heirs) have taken in how to run the schools. Is there finally an antidote in 2015, Stay tuned.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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