Just days after the official launch of her run for Philadelphia’s next mayor, former City Councilmember and 1993 College graduate Helen Gym spoke to The Daily Pennsylvanian about her campaign priorities.
Gym, a former teacher and longtime community organizer, has served on the City Council since 2016. She formally announced her campaign on Nov. 30 at the William Way LGBT Community Center after stepping down from her former position. In an interview with the DP, Gym elaborated on her plans to address rising gun violence rates, criminal justice reform, and resolving the city's issues in education, if elected.
The Democratic and Republican primaries are set to be held this May. If elected, Gym — the first Asian American woman to serve on Philadelphia’s City Council — would become the city’s first female mayor.
As of October, Axios Philadelphia reported that the number of youth gun victims in this year alone equaled that of the combined totals from 2015 and 2016. In her announcement speech, Gym clarified that she will prioritize addressing the uptick of gun violence in the city.
She said that, on her first day as mayor, she plans on declaring a citywide state of emergency and focus all city departments towards a common goal of community safety.
“That means starting every Monday with a Cabinet meeting where every single department head is going to report on what they're going to do to improve safety in our communities,” Gym said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and we're going to make sure that there's coordination across all agencies.”
She added that she intends to establish a federal, state, and county task force on illegal guns, zero in on improving 911 response times across the city, and prioritize local mental health and trauma services.
“I think a lot of the problems that we have in Philadelphia are because we are not scaling up on proven solutions [for victims of gun violence] like hospital-based intervention programs. We risk having those who have been shot and hurt ending up on the other side of the weapon,” Gym said.
According to the city’s Department of Public Health, invidividuals treated with hospital-based violence intervention programs were three times less likely to be arrested for a violent crime and two times less likely to be convicted of any crime after receiving treatment.
“We need to deliver a real agenda for systemic racism and disinvestment. And that includes why I'm prioritizing school and prioritizing a lot of the city services that will address many of these issues and how the surrounding environment of a community can have a deep impact on the way people live and life expectancies," Gym said.
Criminal Justice Reform
Amid recent calls for the return of stop-and-frisk searches to address rising violence rates throughout the city, Gym said she stands firmly against such measures, describing them as a breach of civil rights.
“I'd made it very clear that I'm not going to use this crisis to roll back civil rights,” Gym said. “When people call for a return [to stop and frisk], what they are calling for is a return to the illegal search and seizure of individuals that violated rights."
She added that she believes not only was it a violation of peoples’ rights and dignity, it was also a “spectacular failure” in its capacity to address crime.
In 2021, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers released a report stating that Philadelphia public schools continue to struggle with health hazards such as asbestos present in school buildings and lead in drinking water.
“Right now, our schools open weeks after some other school systems, we don't run summer schools in most of our buildings because only a third of them are able to operate in the summer with functioning air conditioning, and we frequently close down school buildings,” Gym said.
She added that she believes that, given environmental hazards’ impact on the city’s public schools, a Green New Deal for education is just as much of a “full-on investment” in local youth as it is in the environment.
She also referenced legislation that she recently introduced for the installation of modern water filtration systems in schools. The bill was unanimously passed, setting a 2025 deadline for the district to remove lead from its drinking water.
“These investments are extremely popular. They're not just about fitting into a particular slogan, they are delivering an actual service,” Gym said. “They make school a bit more joyful to attend for the kids. I also want that to be part of school modernization.”
Gym also spoke about her hope to create economic opportunity in the city to keep local college students in Philadelphia after graduation.
“As a Penn grad, I am in competition to keep all of you here in Philadelphia. It’s been your home for the last four years, I want you to call it home for the next 40,” Gym said.