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Helen Gym announced her city council candidacy. Credit: Guyrandy Jean-GIlles , Guyrandy Jean-GIlles

It’s official — Penn alumna and education activist Helen Gym has entered into the race for a City Council at-large seat.

About 150 people gathered at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia in Rittenhouse for the announcement on Monday afternoon. Surrounded by family, friends and supporters, Gym said she is running for city council to fight for public education. “I will fight, as I have fought, to defend that most cherished institution and the biggest symbol toward a just, equitable and prosperous Philadelphia,” she said.

Gym is a former Philadelphia public school teacher and Asian-American rights activist. She is a known critic of the School Reform Commission and former Republican Governor Tom Corbett’s policies and a co-founder of the group Parents United for Public Education.

President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Jerry Jordan said that the teachers’ union “enthusiastically endorses” Gym. PFT endorsed Gym days before she made her candidacy official. The union’s Political Action Committee plans to donate the maximum contribution possible under finance laws — $11,500 — Philadelphia Magazine reported.

At least 12 people total — including the four Democratic incumbents — are currently vying for at-large positions on City Council. At least one new member will be elected since Jim Kenney stepped down in order to run for Philadelphia mayor. Past precedent says that five seats will go to Democrats and two to Republicans.

Two openly gay candidates are in the race for a seat — former General Manager of Reading Terminal Market Paul Steinke and attorney Sherrie Cohen, who came in sixth in the last Democratic at-large election. Lincoln University adjunct professor Isaiah Thomas and a former director at nonprofit food bank Philabundance George Matysik are among the candidates.

Public school parent Terrilyn McCormick spoke on behalf of Gym on Monday and mentioned the funding issues in the district. “Helen has a proven track record of tackling issues of the Philadelphia schools and getting results. She will take those skills to City Hall on behalf of all us,” she said.

“Unlike most politicians who say, ‘vote for me and I will speak for you,’ Helen spoke for us first,” LeRoi Simmons, another co-founder of Parents United, said.

“People sometimes ask me if I’m angry,” Gym joked. “I always tell them ‘yes, I am, aren’t you?’” She talked about the poverty rates in the city, contention with the teachers’ contract and lack of funding for nurses and counselors.

“As the saying goes, if you are not angry, if you are not outraged at this moment, then you are not paying attention,” Gym said.

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