Does Philadelphia Offer Any Lessons for Eric Adams?
A Black moderate triumphs
On Monday, I wrote for New York about the possibility of Helen Gym, a proud progressive, becoming the mayor of Philadelphia. Gym, a former city council member and schoolteacher, was pitted in a competitive Democratic primary against a number of strong contenders, including a former colleague on the city council, Cherelle Parker, and the ex-city comptroller, Rebecca Rhynhart. Gym was trying to become the latest self-identified progressive to win a mayoral race in a major American city, joining Brandon Johnson in Chicago, Karen Bass in Los Angeles, and Michelle Wu in Boston.
Gym lost, placing a disappointing third behind Rhynhart and Parker. Philadelphia has no runoff system and a Republican last led the city in the 1940s. Parker, a moderate who has spoken about returning stop-and-frisk to Philadelphia to curtail the city’s alarmingly high murder rate, will be the next mayor. For the many national progressives who invested heavily in Gym—Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Working Families Party—her defeat was a significant blow. Gym, who is Asian American, lost badly to Parker in the city’s Black working-class precincts. Parker will be Philadelphia’s first female mayor but its fourth Black mayor. Johnson’s victory and Gym’s defeat seemed to offer a sobering, if obvious, lesson for progressives and leftists: a left-wing candidate can win over middle and working-class Black voters if she or he is Black (or, perhaps, if the top opponent is white, as was with the case with Paul Vallas) but will struggle otherwise, especially if there’s another Black contender in the race with deeper ties to the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence. Parker’s message clearly resonated. Gym’s did not.
In New York, Black working-class and middle-class voters remain supportive of Eric Adams, according to polling data and anecdotal evidence. One recent poll showed his overall approval rating rising, though it comes with the caveat of a smaller sample drawn from statewide data. For Adams, who is planning to seek re-election in two years, it’s no doubt heartening that another Black moderate just won a mayoral race close to New York City. If Adams is to survive, he’ll need the full support of both Black and Latino Democrats, particularly in the outer boroughs. The coalition that won him a razor-thin victory in 2021 over Kathryn Garcia will have to stay intact.