Helen Gym’s Hypocritical Return to the Union League Isn’t Her First Misstep

Less than one week after protesting the Union League for honoring controversial Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the mayoral candidate was back there hobnobbing with executives. This isn't the first time she's backpedaled on progressive stances.

Helen Gym as she announced her run for mayor. (Photo by Carlos Nogueras/AL DÍA News Via Getty)

If there’s one thing this crowded mayoral primary is revealing to us, it’s that some candidates are learning the difference between running for City Council and running for the top job.

At-large candidates aren’t really running against anyone; they’re essentially competing in a popularity contest where the goal is to finish among the top five vote-getters. Hardly anyone attacks anyone else. That changes in a mayoral race. Running for mayor means you’re running against people much more likely to call you out. This could explain why former City Councilmember-at-large Helen Gym wasn’t held to account for inconsistent stances on issues in her two runs for Council. Now that she’s a mayoral candidate, those free passes seem to have ended.

Last week, Gym joined several politicians, community leaders and activists in condemning the Union League for honoring controversial Florida governor Ron DeSantis in Philadelphia.


Yet on Monday night, hours after receiving a highly coveted endorsement for mayor from the progressive Working Families Party, Gym was inside the Union League, hanging out with executives at the General Building Contractors Association’s annual meeting.

Yes, Gym pulled a bizarre 180 after appearing fully committed to not supporting an institution she’d said was aligned with “racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and … bigotry.”     

Even worse, her public apology on Twitter didn’t appear to address any of the growing concerns raised by voters. By simply referring to her hypocrisy as a “mistake,” Gym showed how shortsighted she is on the implications of her actions.




I’m a Black queer voter, and these bait-and-switch actions from politicians impact my life. If Gym truly believes that DeSantis is as problematic, racist and homophobic as the institution that honored him, absolutely nothing should have compelled her to return. Over the years, I’ve been to the Union League for a few events that were hosted by leaders of color — but for me and for many others, once the institution honored DeSantis, a man who has pushed “Don’t Say Gay” policies and banned African American studies AP courses, going back for any reason was no longer an option.

Clearly, that wasn’t the case for Gym, a straight non-Black candidate whose performative wokeness on this matter revealed her complicity and privilege. It would be one thing if this was just one faux pas from Gym, but it’s part of a string of moral and ethical inconsistencies from a self-proclaimed progressive who has called out other elected officials for similar controversies. Considering that she publicly shamed now-mayoral opponent Amen Brown for speaking with GOP Senate candidate Dr. Oz last summer, it’s hard not to see the irony in her current situation.

Candidates for at-large seats don’t tend to spend money attacking each other; they’re simply vying for one of five spots in what is essentially a popularity contest. In the past two electoral cycles, Helen Gym has benefited from this. With strong name recognition, citywide endorsements, and the ability to raise money, she was the highest vote-getter in her race in 2019.

But four years later, the tide and race have changed. As mayoral candidates, Gym and all her opponents are being compared and contrasted — there can only be one mayor. And I’ve noticed several concerning contradictions and inconsistencies in Gym’s stances/politics.

Gym’s flip-flop on the Union League reminds me of her selective amnesia when it came to backing corrupt politicians. In 2019, Gym told me that now-former sheriff Jewell Williams should resign in the wake of lawsuit settlements related to sexual harassment allegations made by former employees of his office. (Williams was never criminally charged and has denied all wrongdoing). Gym’s stand on the Williams situation rang hollow when she didn’t take a similar position on now-disgraced former City Councilmember Bobby Henon, whom she continued to back for majority leader even though he’d been indicted on charges of public corruption.

“All allegations of corruption are concerning and deserve to be heard in court,” Gym told the Inquirer in December 2019 when asked by reporters if the corruption allegations against Henon concerned her.

Could that possibly have been because she didn’t want to run afoul of now-convicted Local 98 labor boss Johnny Doc — who was Henon’s co-conspirator but also one of her biggest political allies?

I had similar concerns when Gym, who has a reputation for bucking the establishment, joined an unusual band of moderates and Republicans in City Council to kill a 2019 proposal supported by city health officials and anti-drug activists that would have required pharmaceutical sales representatives to register with the city and track their gifts to doctors.

Was her vote influenced by the fact that her husband, Bret Flaherty, works for AmerisourceBergen — one of the largest drug distributors in the country (and one that’s now being sued for helping to fuel the opioid epidemic)?

These concerns make me question Gym’s overall progressive appeal. They’re the kinds of things that can begin to redefine a candidate’s image, and how she addresses these contradictions could determine her ultimate viability. Perhaps this recent embarrassment will remind her that behind her performative gestures are people living on the margins who are impacted every time she chooses to betray their trust.