Some Delaware Valley leaders fear Helen Gym will be Philadelphia’s next mayor.
Gym is a formidable candidate, and with nine people—so far—running in the Democratic primary this May, the vote is up for grabs. A lot is riding on the race. Given the Democratic voter advantage of 7-1, whoever wins the primary will very likely be the next mayor.
Gym has a strong base of support from her time on the city council and as a former teacher turned school activist who often wielded a megaphone as she led demonstrations here and in Harrisburg.
She has hired Brendan McPhillips as her campaign manager. He successfully shepherded another far-left candidate, John Fetterman, into the U.S. Senate, despite Fetterman suffering a debilitating stroke during the campaign. And McPhillips, who grew up in Philadelphia, was Gym’s campaign manager for her successful 2015 city council bid.
Retired state Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery/Bucks) said Philadelphia’s policies affect the areas that border it.
“Weakened law enforcement is a big deal, affecting Montgomery County and the other collar counties,” Mensch said. “Any liberal mayor is not good for a stronger economy and jobs and crime.” He noted his “comments are based on current history.”
Guy Ciarrocchi, the former Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry president and a Republican who ran for Congress, said Gym’s anti-police stance on criminal justice would lead to even more crime in Philadelphia, which notably surpassed 500 murders again in 2022, and crime would inevitably spread outward.
On taxes, something businesses consider before relocating, Gym backed a wealth tax on the value of direct holdings in stocks and bonds at a maximum rate of 0.4 percent. It targets the top 5 percent of families with incomes of $364,000. And such a tax might also lead many businesses to go elsewhere.
Businesses that leave Philadelphia are more likely to head to Florida, Virginia, or Texas rather than Radnor or Chester County, Ciarrocchi said.
“You need a vibrant metropolitan area to have a vibrant suburban area because there’s a synergy there,” he continued. Many company officials find the Philadelphia area convenient because it is near I-95 and has Amtrak connections. So, within a few hours their employees can reach New York or Washington, D.C. Housing has traditionally been less expensive in Philadelphia and its suburbs than those other metropolitan areas. And there are amenities that employees like, such as excellent restaurants, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, and several theaters.
But if Philadelphia continues to deteriorate, none of that will matter.
As a suburb, “You want Philadelphia to be growing in population,” Ciarrocchi explained. “You want Philadelphia to be growing its economy. What you don’t want is a downtown that people are afraid to go into at night, where employees are hesitant to work, where the schools aren’t working,” he said.
Regulations that Gym supports make it challenging to redevelop crumbling neighborhoods and would make builders who might want to invest in those areas think twice.
Ciarrocchi said, “Our economy is in real trouble. Suburban leaders care a great deal about who is mayor—he or she is the ambassador for our region. It’s imperative that the next mayor focuses on policies that encourage businesses to open up and grow here—and fights violent crime. We don’t need candidates focused on micromanaging businesses or not interested in fighting crime.”
Several of the other Democrats running for mayor are more promising for business.
For example, developer Allan Domb, a former councilman. Or grocery store owner Jeff Brown. Both have the resources to get their messages out there.
“Brown is going to have a lot of people writing large checks or having an outside committee helping him,” said Ciarrocchi. He said there is lots of support and a base in the African American community for Rep. Amen Brown.
But Gym has “very successfully gone from being a sort of gadfly community organizer to a very serious candidate,” said Ciarrocchi, who grew up in South Philadelphia and still has affection for his former hometown. “I think that anybody who doesn’t take her seriously has to be absolutely clueless…Her platform sits at the sweet spot of where urban Democratic Party voters are, that being left of center and more progressive. She’s shown to be a savvy campaigner.”
As for the progressive or socialist economic philosophy, Ciarrocchi believes they would be a disaster and drive away more of the middle class.
“We need leaders focused on ‘growing the pie’—not simply fighting over how to redistribute it or punishing job creators,” Ciarrocchi said.
A spokesperson for Gym’s campaign agreed to send a comment for this article. Days later, no comment was forthcoming.
Gym’s record on public safety shows she wants to use social programs to try to stop crime and violence in the city rather than beefing up the police presence, including spending $50 million in federal funds on those programs.
She introduced a measure to reduce police response to violent protests. As for the movement to defund the police, Gym was on board. She tweeted, “We don’t have to keep the same systems over and over. Minneapolis Council showing how transformative change can happen.”
And while state lawmakers impeached progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner to try to change the downward crime spiral engulfing Philadelphia, including some 562 homicides in 2021, Gym opposed that move.