Ya Fav Trashman is running for Philadelphia City Council

North Philly native Terrill Haigler started talking about litter online just over two years ago. Now he hopes to take that discourse directly into city politics.

Better known as “Ya Fav Trashman,” Haigler declared his candidacy for City Council on Saturday, announcing his intention to run for a seat in the 2023 Democratic primary. He made it official at one of his regular events. community cleanup, in Francisville, just off North Broad Street.


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Haigler’s policy platform centers on cleaning up and beautifying Philadelphia as a first step toward addressing larger systemic issues. He says, “A cleaner city is a safer city.

It’s on the nose, given his fame. Haigler, who turned 33 this weekend, has no training or experience in politics or political organizing. But he managed to inspire the people of Philadelphia and rally people to action. He built a huge social following in 2020 when he started chronicling the challenges faced by the city’s sanitation workers and raised funds for PPE to help workers avoid the exposure to COVID-19 at work.

Riding this wave, Haigler quit his city job to become a full-time lawyer. He started a nonprofit organization that hosts cleanup events across the city and wrote a children’s book about a sanitation worker, with a portion of the proceeds going to Philadelphia schools.

As a council member, Haigler told Billy Penn he would be a champion for neighborhoods “who feel like Philadelphia doesn’t care about them.” If elected, he said he would pledge to take all voter calls within days – a relatively common campaign promise.

All 17 City Council seats are up for election in November 2023, with the Democratic primary taking place in May. With several incumbents likely to step down to run for mayor, the races are expected to be competitive.

It’s early to announce, but Haigler isn’t the first. Michael Galvan, a former staffer of Mayor Jim Kenney who would be the city’s first openly LGBTQ lawmaker, announced their candidacy last week. Republican Drew Murray, former president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, announced his candidacy in the spring. Both are running for an at-large seat.

As far as Haigler knows, there hasn’t been another former sanitation worker on the city council, at least not in recent history.

“Tackling trash cans would add value to all the other initiatives going on in the city,” Haigler said. “Having the knowledge I have and the connections, this would be a perfect opportunity to add my perspective to the table.”

Kimberly Paynter / WHY

A viral sensation becomes a “bond”

Haigler has never shunned the spotlight. He graduated from the High School of Creative and Performing Arts, trained at the Freedom Theater on North Broad, and was the first male member of the Philadelphia dance company Danse 4 Nia.

When he became a parent, at 22, he decided to start looking for a stable job, even if it took him away from the arts. He applied to be a health worker, doing other jobs as he sat on a long waiting list of applicants. Finally, in December 2019, he was hired. Less than four months later, the pandemic hit.

On his daily journeys, he saw residents’ frustration with late garbage pickups due to COVID-19. They didn’t understand why.

“I had no choice but to try to be a liaison,” Haigler said. “I felt like it was God’s calling on my life to speak up at that time and bring a different perspective to the city of Philadelphia.”

So Haigler launched the Ya Fav Trashman character on social media and quickly went viral. Residents rushed to donate thousands of dollars for garbage collectors’ PPE. Countryside captured national attention. Along with his friend Ariana Queenan, he started a formal nonprofit, Trash 2 Treasure Inc., and his focus expanded from COVID-specific issues to local environmental issues more broadly.

“My whole nonprofit is about a tangible outcome,” he said. “You see a problem, we get a game plan, we execute and then there’s a result.”

In addition to hosting cleanups, as well as erasure clinics, the nonprofit raises funds by selling merchandise and providing education to aspiring local organizers. Hagler also briefly dipped a toe in political consultant for an aspiring municipal judge and, in February, was appointed the city’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board.

Haigler with volunteers during a trash clean-up in August 2022
Lizzy McLellan Ravitch/Billy Penn

When many people know you, but not your real name

While it’s not easy for a political newcomer to garner attention in a municipal election, linking cleanliness and quality of life to safety and other burning issues could be a hugely successful strategy. for a city council candidate in the upcoming elections, political observers said. with Billy Penn okay.

But that only works if voters can associate Haigler’s viral personality with the name on their ballot.

Caroline Turner, an attorney who unsuccessfully ran for judge in Philadelphia in 2021, said she calls herself a progressive and agrees with Haigler’s position that cleaning up and raising morale are essential to solving systemic problems in the city. Haigler is a friend of hers and worked on her campaign. He was an asset in canvassing and he knows how to motivate people, she said.

“There are a lot of people who are so eager to get in with the movers and shakers that they don’t pay attention to regular people. And it’s not Terrill, she said.

Successful foreign city council candidates in recent years have generally aligned themselves clearly with progressive groups. Haigler doesn’t do that. While running as a Democrat, he is reluctant to define where he stands on the spectrum from moderates to progressives. “To me, it’s not really a label, it’s my action,” he said.

Yet his friend Turner has suggested he may need to adopt a common ideological rhetoric when launching a campaign. “It would be a shame for me if he was known as Ya Fav Trashman and nothing else.”

Haigler has collaborated with several council members and other elected officials in his work over the past two and a half years. Asked who he sees as potential allies in the Council, he gave an upbeat response: “Everyone.”

He plans to step down as CEO of his nonprofit, but continues to clean up throughout the campaign. He says it’s not for political show – although his campaign staff will likely attend the events – but just to continue the work he’s been doing.

And, of course, it’s not a bad way to hang out and meet Philadelphians.

“I hope people know my real name is Terrill…I’m not doing this as a gimmick for the brand,” Haigler said. “I’m passionate about the future of Philadelphia, and I truly believe I bring a perspective that needs to be at the table.”

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