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April 18, 2023

Philadelphia candidates for mayor in 2023: Helen Gym

The former city councilmember created an eviction diversion program during the pandemic that was recognized by the White House

2023 Election Mayoral Race
helen gym.jpeg @HelenGymPHL/Facebook

Helen Gym, the former city councilmember and activist, is one of 9 Democrats running for mayor of Philadelphia.

A longtime activist before her six years on Philadelphia's city council, Helen Gym championed progressive policies on working hours, eviction proceedings and reproductive health care during her time in office.

Gym, the first Asian American woman to serve on City Council, was elected in 2015. Prior to her career in politics, she was a public school teacher at James R. Lowell Elementary School in Olney and a community organizer on issues such as education reform and gentrification, campaigning against the proposed Phillies stadium and Foxwoods Casino projects in Chinatown. She resigned from her at-large council seat in November 2022 to run for mayor in the May 16 primary election.

As a Democratic councilmember, Gym sponsored legislation that led to the Fair Workweek law, which requires large employers of service workers to set schedules at least two weeks in advance and allow at least 11 hours of rest between shifts. She also created the Eviction Diversion Program, designed to reduce evictions over nonpayment during the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was praised by the White House for its effectiveness at mediating landlord negotiations.

Gym's other accomplishments include laws providing low-income renters with free lawyers in eviction cases, mandating lead filtration in public school water fountains and requiring employers to provide commuter benefits. After the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, she also sponsored legislation banning the voluntary sharing of information in a criminal or civil lawsuit against a person seeking legal abortion care in Pennsylvania.

Gym made headlines for calling for the removal of the Frank Rizzo statue in Center City, citing Rizzo's record of racism as mayor and as police commissioner of Philadelphia. She also courted controversy for her alliance with Bobby Henon, the former city councilmember convicted of bribery.

As mayor, Gym says she will roll out a non-police mental health crisis response unit in Philadelphia. She would also improve street lighting, add more trash cans at parks and along commercial corridors and partner with community groups to "ensure visible safe routes to schools."

Her platform further calls for increased library, park and recreation center hours to help reach at-risk youth, and tax breaks for low-income families. As part of her SEPTA overhaul, Gym says she would ensure every Market-Frankford and Broad Street line train is cleaned at the end of every run, increase police foot patrols at stations, expand the SCOPE program and implement $2 fares at select Regional Rail locations.

Her approach to the opioid crisis emphasizes pre-arrest diversion and increased funding to behavioral health services.

Gym was born in Seattle, Washington, and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She moved to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a bachelor's and a master's degree. She currently lives in Logan Square.

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