First he picked up the garbage. Then, he became an accidental Instagram influencer. Now, the social media-famous Philadelphia health worker is taking the next step: politics.
Terrill Haigler, aka ‘Ya Fav Trashman’, is launching a race for a City Council seat, becoming one of the few candidates who have signaled they plan to run before the 2023 Democratic primary, when all 17 seats council will be on Philadelphia’s ballots.
Haigler announced his campaign Saturday to a crowd of supporters who gathered in North Philadelphia for a cleanup of the block where his grandmother lives, which he said can be littered with trash every day.
“This is where it all starts,” he said in an interview ahead of the announcement. “A cleaner city is a safer city.”
Haigler, 33, rose to prominence in 2020 as a sanitation worker and began posting about the plight of essential workers who felt invisible and unsupported during the pandemic. He amassed a large following on Instagram and used the platform to organize dozens of block cleanups across the city.
He said he will operate “on a quality of life platform” centered on physically improving neighborhoods that have seen decades of divestment. His theory is that beautification will change how residents perceive their communities and could trigger a domino effect that lowers crime rates and makes commercial corridors more vibrant.
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The campaign, although nascent, may in some ways be representative of a larger phenomenon. Social media and the universe of influencers have enabled people outside of traditional political circles to gain power and influence, propelling everyone into a position where they can run for office with a built-in network of potential supporters. .
Of course, blue-collar workers have long won municipal elections, including electricians, steam fitters and other members of building trades unions who have fought successful campaigns with the support of organized labor.
But Haigler – who has also been a dancer, bartender and retailer – has a different, decidedly younger and more digitally savvy network to tap into for help. He has nearly 32,000 followers on Instagram, more than three times any other serving Council member, and he engages with them daily through live streams and conversations in the comments.
And Haigler’s Google search results are worth months of positive media coverage of his cleanup efforts. We called her “the Beyoncé of trash” on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine, and last year local news site Billy Penn named him the most valuable Philadelphian.
But Haigler said he knows city officials aren’t chosen based on Instagram influence, and success usually requires winning the support of a center of power, like the city committee. Democratic, organized labor or progressive groups such as the Working Families Party. Haigler may have thousands of Instagram followers, but well-established, well-funded political organizations are voters.
He said he has mingled with party officials and is building a team of strategists who have more fundraising experience than he does.
“I’m convinced there is a way to victory,” he said. “I just want to put an everyday voice at the table, and I’m gonna beat that drum until it comes home.”