About two hours before Helen Gym announced her mayoral campaign on Wednesday, Derek Green had a statement out about her candidacy.
Green, Gym’s former colleague in City Council and fellow candidate for Philadelphia mayor, didn’t hold back.
He noted their “very different approaches and visions” and went on to claim that Gym “pushes a socialist agenda to raise taxes, and opposes more funding for the police.”
A couple hours after Green’s statement, Gym actually confirmed she’s running for mayor. Her kickoff speech addressed public safety, and she promised to “declare a state of emergency and focus all City departments towards the common goal of community safety” if elected.
Among the eight declared Democrats vying for the seat so far, Green stands alone in having directly taken aim at his competitors.
He started early. Contrary to the general expectation that jostling for the May 2023 primary wouldn’t begin in earnest until after the November midterms, Green sent out a pointed press advisory on Oct. 25 — the day Rebecca Rhynhart announced her candidacy.
“Endless criticism isn’t pragmatic leadership,” Green said in the statement. It was a hardly veiled jab at the former City Controller, who had just released a report critiquing the PPD’s crime fighting strategies.
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Asked directly if he was talking about Rhynhart, Green demurred, saying, “I think it’s important to make a contrast for all the candidates who are running.”
Interestingly, several other candidates have entered the race since Green was the second person to formally put his name in the hat — Cherelle Parker, Allan Domb, Jeff Brown, and Jimmy DeLeon — but none of their announcements prompted a public statement.
Does this mean Green views Rhynhart and Gym as his most formidable candidates? The ones who might attract the same kinds of voters he hopes to win? Or perhaps just the easiest to criticize? We asked his campaign.
“Elections are about giving voters information to make a choice,” spokesperson Ken Snyder told Billy Penn. “Derek’s statements about his record and vision have been overwhelmingly aspirational and upbeat.”
That’s certainly an apt description for Green’s self perception — “Sometimes you don’t choose the moment, the moment chooses you,” he said in October — but it’s hard to miss that he’s aimed to big himself up while simultaneously downplaying the experience or views of specific contestants.
Asked to elaborate on how Gym’s policy proposals are “socialist” in nature, spokesperson Snyder said the point was more that she is “ideologically rigid in her beliefs.” He contrasted that with Green, calling him a “consensus builder” and noting that Gym opposed his idea to offer signing bonuses for new police officers.
He returned to the theme raised in Green’s statement when Rhynhart announced: “Should the next mayor be a movement leader or a pragmatic leader who has a reputation of bringing warring factions together to get things done?”
Since being used incessantly to describe President Obama, pragmatism has meant all kinds of things to all different kinds of Democrats. (Because of Philadelphia’s 7-1 voter registration imbalance, the next mayor is highly likely to be a Democrat.)
One might say Green is being pragmatic by using competitor announcements as opportunities to spell out his own political priorities.
The 51-year-old Mt. Airy resident says it’s because he needs to make explicit that he’s the best person for the job.
“I think people are looking to see who has the experience and fighting crime, because that’s our number one issue in our city,” Green said in October. “As a former assistant district attorney, I had that experience.”