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Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym speaks at an event hosted by Penn Dems in Irvine Auditorium on Feb. 22. Credit: Nathaniel Babitts

Penn Democrats and the Asian Pacific Student Coalition hosted Philadelphia mayoral candidate and 1993 College graduate Helen Gym at an event on Wednesday night. 

Around 20 students attended the event in Irvine Auditorium to hear Gym, a former Philadelphia city council member, speak about the importance of the mayoral election and her focus on gun violence, community safety, and education. She discussed Penn and her goals as a mayoral candidate in an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

"Penn is absolutely a vibrant, important part of all of Philadelphia. I feel a tremendous investment in the University and in its evolution to help us become a better society," Gym, who is also a 1996 graduate of the Graduate School of Education, said.

Gym added that she believes Penn also has an important role to play in the context of neighborhood and community integration efforts.

"Penn is no longer the 'old ivory tower,'  but actually the partner and well-integrated within a diverse and evolving West Philadelphia, but its mission is not to accelerate a displacement," Gym said. It's to show and prove that we can develop without displacement, that we can create affordability."

Gym addressed the issue of PILOTs and affordable housing — an issue that has seen heightened student activism among the Penn community in the past two years. 

Gym began by recognizing that student efforts have “made Penn pay PILOTs for the first time to our Philadelphia public school system” — referring to the $100 million pledge made by the University in 2020 to address environmental hazards in Philadelphia public schools. 

“I think [universities] could do so much more if there's a much more cohesive mission for them,” Gym said.

In responses to audience questions, Gym emphasized safety as her top priority. She highlighted her goals of establishing a citywide state of emergency, improving 911 response times, and prioritizing mental health intervention, which she previously mentioned in an interview with the DP in December. 

“We need to build a world where Black neighborhoods like Eastwick stop flooding," Gym said. "We have to build a world where public school kids don’t roast in 90-degree classrooms anymore."

College sophomore and Penn Dems Vice President Alex Venth introduced Gym at the event and said that the organization hopes to emphasize student participation in Philadelphia politics. 

“We have prioritized inviting mayoral candidates to speak because we want our members to be more engaged with Philadelphia politics,” Venth told the DP. “Helen Gym, as a front-runner, was an important person for us to bring in.” 

Students who attended the event told the DP that they appreciated Gym's emphasis on the affordability of Philadelphia.

“I appreciated the attention to detail for the long haul-affordability and taking action now before things kind of spiraled out of control,” College junior Mica Lin-Alves said.

In response to a question about campaign finances, Gym also emphasized the support she received from community members, and her field-leading amount of small-dollar donations. 

Gym, who actively demonstrated against the proposed Phillies stadium in 2000 and was the first Asian American woman to serve in the Philadelphia City Council, also highlighted her commitment toward the “preservation and expansion” of Chinatown. 

“I fought for a growth of our city and not just about expensive developments," Gym said. "The city has to grow. It has to revitalize, and it can do that by supporting neighborhoods and communities that are healthy and vibrant and strong."