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The next step for Philly’s Instagram-famous ‘Ya Fav Trashman’? Politics

Anna Orso - Philly Inquirer

His run for City Council shows how social media and the influencer economy has ushered in a new type of local politician: the everyman.

First, he collected garbage. Then, he became an accidental Instagram influencer. Now, Philadelphia’s social media-famous sanitation worker is taking the next natural step: politics.

Terrill Haigler, a.k.a. “Ya Fav Trashman,” is launching a run for an at-large seat on City Council, becoming one of a handful of candidates who have signaled they’re planning to run ahead of the 2023 Democratic primary, when all 17 Council seats will be on Philadelphia ballots.

announced his campaign Saturday to a crowd of supporters who gathered in North Philadelphia for a cleanup on the block where his grandmother lives, which he said on any given day might be strewn with trash.

“This is where it all starts,” he said in an interview before the announcement. “A cleaner city is a safer city.”

Haigler, 33, rose to prominence in 2020 when he was a sanitation worker and began posting about the plight of essential workers who felt unseen and unsupported during the pandemic. He amassed a large following on Instagram and used the platform to organize dozens of block cleanups throughout the city.

He said he’ll be running “on a quality-of-life platform” centered on making physical improvements to neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment. His theory is that beautification will change how residents feel about their communities and could set off a domino effect that reduces crime rates and makes business corridors more vibrant.

The campaign, while nascent, may in some ways be representative of a broader phenomenon. Social media and the influencer universe has allowed for people outside traditional political circles to gain power and influence, boosting the everyman into a position where they can run for office with a built-in network of potential supporters.

Sure, blue-collar workers have long won city elections, notably electricians, steamfitters, and other members of building trades unions who ran successful campaigns with support from organized labor.

But Haigler — who’s also been a dancer, a bartender, and a retail worker — has a different, decidedly younger and more digitally savvy network to tap for support. He’s got nearly 32,000 followers on Instagram, more than three times any other sitting Council member, and he engages with them daily through livestreams and conversation in the comments.

And Haigler’s Google search results are months’ worth of positive media coverage about his cleanup efforts. He was called “the Beyoncé of trash” on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine, and last year, the local news website Billy Penn named him the Most Valuable Philadelphian.

But Haigler said he knows the city’s elected officials aren’t picked based on Instagram influence, and success usually requires earning the support of some center of power, like the Democratic city committee, organized labor, or progressive groups such as the Working Families Party. Haigler may have thousands of Instagram followers, but established and well-funded political organizations turn out voters.

He said he’s mingled with party officials and is building a team of strategists who have more experience fund-raising than he does.

“I’m convinced there’s a path to victory,” he said. “I just want to put an everyday voice at the table, and I’m gonna beat that drum till it comes home.”

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