The recent election for Mayor of Philadelphia was very disappointing for progressive activists who with good reason had to believe their candidate Helen Gym, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would win a plurality of votes in a hotly contested Democratic primary election with as many as ten candidates on the ballot. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will become the next Mayor after the election in November since Democrats have an overwhelming registration margin and no Republican was elected Mayor in almost one hundred years. Like other progressive candidates in mayoral campaigns throughout the country, Helen Gym’s political agenda consisted of broadening and democratizing Philadelphia’s economy, making it more diversified and responsive to the needs of disadvantaged individuals and communities, especially those of minority background and communities of color.
Helen Gym promoted programs and policies that were consistent with many of the ideals promoted by the 20 Theses 4 Liberation, to rebuild and renovate schools, increase teacher rewards and involvement, a guaranteed jobs program for underprivileged youth, and to increase public safety by providing more social services to make criminal behavior less likely. Of great importance to democratize the city’s economy, Helen Gym was the only candidate to pledge that as Mayor she would implement the law already passed by City Council to establish a public bank, the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, which would provide loans and other means of financial support for community development and public improvements. Advocates for Democratic Socialism and social justice had every reason to believe that as Mayor Helen Gym would rejuvenate Philadelphia and make it a model of success for economic democracy and social justice.
Despite the loss, there was some good news and reason for hope. The winner of the election was Charelle Parker, a black woman who will be the first woman mayor in Philadelphia’s history. Though more of a moderate Democrat, she has some progressive credentials, endorsed by most labor and African-American special interest groups, and ultimately won the election with overwhelming voter margins in black communities and neighborhoods. Though public safety was Charelle Parker’s priority campaign issue, as a progressive member of City Council she did vote to establish a public bank for Philadelphia, though she was not as committed to implement the law as Helen Gym.
The most important result of the primary election for progressives and social justice advocates was the election to city council of Rue Landau, who will become the first openly gay member of city council. As a member of ACT UP during the height of the AIDS epidemic, she fought on the frontlines for access to better health care for people with HIV and AIDS. In 2014, while serving as Executive Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, Landau and her wife became the first same sex couple in Pennsylvania to receive a marriage license. Landau began her career as a civil rights attorney at Community Legal Services defending low-income renters against evictions. She then spent 12 years directing Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations as well as the Fair Housing Commission, where she focused on advancing the state’s civil rights laws. She helped advance laws to advance wage equity, create reasonable accommodations for pregnant people and strengthen anti-discrimination protections, including specifically for LGBTQ+ people. As member of city council Rue’s priority is a holistic, community-centered approach to public safety, providing financial resources to invest in community development, especially in disadvantaged and minority neighborhoods, and facilitating the availability of affordable housing.
In another positive step forward for advocates of social justice and democratic economy was the re-election of city council member Isaiah Thomas, who was endorsed by every progressive organization and who was the top vote getter among more than 20 candidates for city council. As a member of city council Isaiah Thomas introduced the Driving Equality Bill, aka “Driving While Black”, which became a nationwide model for reducing negative interactions with police. He also passed the “Black Workers Matter” economic recovery package to ensure that federal funds allocated for pandemic relief would benefit black workers. He also actively supported and voted for the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, a public bank to serve the needs of disadvantaged groups and communities restricted from access to traditional sources of financing.
Perhaps the most important lesson for progressive activists, Democratic Socialists and others concerned with achieving economic democracy and social justice is that these goals cannot be achieved without significant support from the African-American community. Helen Gym lost because she was unable to achieve that support since Charelle Parker, an African-American woman, won overwhelmingly from black voters, especially older women who represented the largest bloc of voters in the election. Another reason Helen Gym lost is that she failed to adequately address the issue that was most important to the black community, especially black women who were mostly concerned about public safety and rampant crime in their community. Black women who voted were much less concerned about achieving economic democracy, social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement than they were about their personal safety. In Philadelphia, the overwhelming percentage from victims of crime were black, especially black women.
The results from the election in Philadelphia were a mixed bag for progressives and other advocates for economic democracy, social justice and especially the 20 Theses 4 Liberation. Despite the loss with Helen Gym, other advocates for liberation democracy and social justice, especially the election of Rue Landau and Isaiah Thomas to city council, give hope that some progress might be achieved. Next to Helen Gym, Charelle Parker for Mayor was the next best option given that all the other candidates were white, wealthy, and advocates for neo-liberal capitalism. Although Parker stressed that her priority was public safety, she has also been an advocate for economic development in disadvantaged communities, affordable housing and improvements to public education. She also voted for and continues to support the law establishing a public bank for Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, even though she is less committed to its implementation than Helen Gym. Hopefully, progressives, social democrats and other advocates for liberation will take lessons from the Philadelphia election results, and modify their electoral strategy as needed to win, especially in large cities with a significant percentage of minority voters, especially African-Americans.
ZNetwork is funded solely through the generosity of its readers.Donate