Helen Gym (pronounced G-i-m), known throughout many circles as Philadelphia’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was elected to Philadelphia City Council in 2016 as a left-wing social justice warrior. A favorite among many under-40 voters, Gym was born in Seattle and raised in Columbus, Ohio, but came to Philadelphia in the 1900s to do undergrad and grad work at the University of Pennsylvania.
The University of Pennsylvania, like Harvard University, is a great place to become radicalized. In 2022, The National Review classified Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania as among the worst colleges for free speech.
An article published by The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (“The Long Decline of the University of Pennsylvania” by Gordon Bare) details the university’s descent into ideological totalitarianism:
“In the mid-1960s, the politics were polyglot, reflecting an era when the professional classes and even the professoriate were more ideologically diverse than is the case today. In subsequent decades Penn has gone downhill—from centrist to liberal to hard left and from the meritocratic to consumed with identity and identity politics. It has pandered to totalitarian regimes abroad and to the politically influential at home. Ideology trumps analysis and intellectual rigor…”
Gym, an assembly-line UPenn product, won a second term in City Council in 2020. In an unprecedented field of 30 candidates for five at-large Council seats, she received 106,000 votes, 40,000 more votes than her nearest competitor, former real estate mogul Allan Domb.
Fast forward to Philadelphia’s mayoral Democratic primary election on May 16, 2023 where nine Democrats competed to be the city’s 100th mayor (the lone Republican candidate, former At Large City Council member David Oh, ran unopposed.)
Gym’s left-wing, progressive supporters knew what they had in this woke straight-shooter: an activist not afraid to engage in the occasional planned civil disobedience protest, such as the June 2021 protest in the state capitol in Harrisburg, where she was arrested along with 15 others after staging a ruckus related to Pennsylvania’s education-funding priorities.
Gym also advocated for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia in 2020. As early as 2017, she supported and later spearheaded a movement to remove the statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building near City Hall. Gym tweeted then:
“All around the country, we’re fighting to remove the monuments to slavery & racism. Philly, we have work to do. Take the Rizzo statue down.” (The statue was finally removed by Mayor Jim Kenney in 2020.)
Gym’s candidacy for mayor won the endorsements of various celebrities like Jane Fonda, ‘Incredible Hulk’ actor Mark Ruffalo, and Marc Lamont Hill.
“Only Helen has proposed a Green New Deal for Philadelphia Schools,” the Hollywood actor wrote. “That makes Helen Gym the right choice for Philadelphia’s next Mayor.”
Leftwing activists were certain that Gym’s celebrity endorsements would make her victorious in the polls. This was especially true when a Helen Gym ‘extravaganzia” rally was held on May 14, two days before the primary. The Franklin Music Hall location – the hall is noted for its mediocre pop star attractions – had two special guests to boost Gym’s candidacy, Bernie Sanders and AOC.
The event was a kind of woke political Woodstock for city leftists.
Ocasio-Crotez was in rare form. “When progressives have victories,” she told the cheering crowd, “they are quick to dismiss it as a flake or an aberration or a mistake, but we’ve had this fight and we’re taking the fight to the west coast to the east coast….”
Crotez’s wide smile, a facsimile of Gym’s in many ways, got wider and wider as she declared, “On Tuesday, we are going to make Helen Gym mayor of Philadelphia.”
The audience roared. It was ecstasy, helium and laughing gas all at once. It was Nirvana.
When Bernie Sanders walked onstage with his back to Gym’s front row of supporters – all of them holding placards like photo op mannequins with fixed smiles – I had to wonder what sort of Machiavellian politicking they had to do in order to be placed directly in front of the cameras.
Sanders’ entrance, of course, sparked additional adulation and orgiastic reactions.
“Your generation is leading this country in the fight for justice,” Sanders said, looking a little more hunched-over than usual, his words confirming for me that most of the Franklin Music Hall audience was indeed young people under 40. “But here is the not so good news, that is, your generation does not vote at a high enough level – we’ve got to do better!”
As for Gym, she appeared overwhelmed at all the love.
At one point Philadelphia’s AOC seemed on the verge of tears. One could easily sense that she was feeling that even if she lost the primary she could now bask in the national limelight as a progressive icon. She would have national recognition, she would be celebrated, and from here she could go anywhere – up, up and away from the tiny fishbowl known as municipal politics.
Endorsements continued to come her way as Chicago Mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu gave Gym a big thumbs up.
Oh glorious day!
Despite these accolades, what did the average Philadelphia Democrat think of Gym?
I got a sample of that when, on Tuesday, May 16, I worked as a poll watcher at my neighborhood polling place.
On this particular Tuesday, I noticed high numbers of young married types under-40 coming to vote. Compared to former elections at the same polling place, the number of under-40 voters seemed very high. I attributed this to Bernie Sanders’ plea at the Franklin Music Hall for ‘under 40 progressives’ to get out the vote. The lefties were being very obedient.
Nevertheless, my Dem poll watcher colleagues were unanimous in their intense dislike of Helen Gym. I would even go so far as to call this dislike ‘hatred.’ “I don’t care who wins this primary as long as Gym doesn’t win,” was something I heard over and over again during my 11-hour watch. “Even if she loses by one vote, I’ll be happy,” a grand old dame of the local Democrat Party confessed to me.
“For once, we’re together on something,” I told her.
Although voter turnout at the polling place was initially low, as the day progressed more and more people under age 40 began to appear. Many brought their small children, baby carriages, dogs, and made a real event out it.
The anti-Gym Democrat voters I talked to at the polls were very worried about the effectiveness of the massive Gym rally at Franklin Music Hall. In a YouTube video of that rally, AOC is seen hugging a blissful looking Gym. That cheek-to-cheek hug was a watershed moment in leftist (photo) iconography.
After all, a (leftwing) Data for Progress poll had Gym leading the pack, and an Emerson College Philly PHL 17 Survey that also put Gym ahead at 20.5%, followed by Cherelle Parker, a moderate Democrat, at 18.2%. The New York Intelligencer predicted a possible Gym win, as did WHYY, Philadelphia’s public media organization.
“They’ve got the money, but we’ve got the people,” Ocasio-Cortez told the throngs at Franklin Music Hall. “I always say to my team back home, progressives win in a street fight, and that’s what we’ve got here in Philly today, a street fight…Gym will keep Philly safe from inequity and inequality…”
But Gym, thankfully, lost the street fight. She came in third with 22% of the vote. The winner of the primary was Cherelle Parker, a moderate law-and-order Democrat, who made it a point to declare at the first public mayoral debate that she was always against the movement to defund the police.
Philadelphia is safe from Gym and her crowd of leftwing table rousers, at least for now.