I woke up Wednesday morning wondering if the previous evening had been a dream or if I really was living in a Gym-free zone in my beloved city.
The last few months have been a series of highs and (mostly) lows, as I spent an inordinate amount of time on social media listening to Helen Gym’s supporters make the case for their candidate. They were neither subtle nor particularly decent.
The only thing that comes close to wading through the Gym currents is a late-season hurricane: Lots of noise, lots of debris, and a whole lot of destruction left behind.
Gym ran one of the most toxic campaigns I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty. I don’t think that’s a surprise because a campaign takes its tone from the candidate, and she has been a divisive and abrasive political force since she first arrived on the scene 30 years ago.
I have been making a big deal on social media about how the former city councilwoman and mayoral hopeful wasn’t “from here.” (Gym was born in Seattle, Washington, and raised in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio.)
Her campaign manager Brendan McPhillips and allies tried to use the “racism” card against me because, apparently, when you point out that someone isn’t from Philadelphia, you are a bigot. The fact that Helen is Korean had nothing to do with my comments. But a progressive will never miss the opportunity to exploit a good race smear.
But even though I got a lot of mileage from my occasional references to her Seattle by way of Ohio roots, the thing that most upset me about Helen Gym was her willingness to divide Philadelphia, my hometown, along every possible fault line she could find: Race, class (always class,) sexual orientation, gender and legacy-vs.-recently arrived.
I am not from South Philadelphia, but I’ve spent the last 25 years working two blocks from Marconi Plaza, the site of the infamous Columbus Statue controversy a few years back. Helen Gym was a driving force in trying to get that statue pulled down, misrepresenting Italians and our history in the process. She was unsuccessful in that arena, but she did manage to get the Rizzo statue at the Municipal Services Building pulled down. It was just another example of her employing divide-and-conquer tactics to advance her own goals.
Helen wielded a bullhorn like a Kardashian wields a makeup brush: For effect. I remember her standing in front of ICE screaming some nonsense about immigration when I knew as an immigration attorney that the best way to serve those who were in the crosshairs of our harsh system was to try and collaborate when possible and only take a stand when all other avenues had been exhausted.
Helen doesn’t believe in compromise. She wants to burn down the system and have it remade in an image that makes her and her uber-progressive followers happy.
Of course, if you listen to them, she is the savior of the Western world. I remember seeing a photo of a rally with Helen on a raised dais and her supporters standing well below, cell phones in hand to capture every word. The expressions on their faces reminded me of cult members waiting for the moment when the spaceship would take them home. That is what happens when charismatic characters take the stage.
Helen Gym is not going away. Her policies and politics were rejected in Philadelphia, but she is a force of nature and will likely set her sites on a more national office, like a congressional seat. She might even challenge Sen. Bob Casey when he comes up for re-election. In a state that elected a man who was severely debilitated by a stroke to a high federal office, it’s not unreasonable to assume that it will look favorably upon a tiny lady with a big bullhorn.
Not coincidentally, John Fetterman and Helen Gym shared the same campaign manager.
I’m happy, for now. Philadelphia dodged a bullet, one of the few that it has been able to dodge since Larry Krasner was elected DA. But I won’t rest easy until Helen packs her bags and goes home to Seattle, Ohio, or where most of her friends seem to live these days: Hollywood.