Over in Northeast Philadelphia, George Matysik grew up feeling disconnected from city government. But it’s a disconnect he says exists even for those “living in the shadow of City Hall.”
The 33-year-old East Falls resident is out to change that by running for a City Council at-large seat in next year’s elections.
“This city is my home and this city will continue to be my home,” he says. ” The most impact I can have is within City Hall.”
A top-down approach
Matysik’s day job is with local hunger-relief nonprofit Philabundance, where he is the director of government affairs.
In that job, he says he spends his days trying to relieve the poverty that exists today, but that on council, he believes he can try and stem the city’s poverty problem.
That will take investing in public education and economic development. Both are areas he says will take innovation.
The idea of innovation, in fact, seems to be at the core of Matysik’s platform.
“For a lot of young people looking to move to a big city, there is this feeling you go to Washington to try to change the world. You go to New York to be the best at what you do,” he says. “To me, you go to Philadelphia to innovate, to be the first.
“My hope is that we can start to innovate on governance and the way that we look at public-private partnerships.”
A piece of “low-hanging fruit” he would like to see implemented is the creation of a foundation responsible for raising money for the public schools, similar to what many city-based entities like Fairmount Park or the Free Library system already have.
Matysik, co-chair and cofounder of the Friends of Mifflin School group, also notes that there should be an institutionalized way for such “friends” groups to interact with each other and with the district about what their neighborhood school needs.
The lifelong Philadelphian has seen his fair share of friends lured out of the city by suburban school districts. His hope for neighborhood schools is simple: “People move into neighborhoods because of the public school, and not in spite of it.”
For his part, he says he plans to stay committed to the city and to a life in public service. It’s his way giving back after the opportunities he’s been afforded.
When he graduated high school in 1999, he couldn’t pay for college, so he started working as a janitor at the University of Pennsylvania. After a couple of years, he started taking advantage of the university policy that allows employees to take two classes for free each semester.
He spent seven years at UPenn — continuing to work janitor shifts around taking classes towards a degree in urban studies.
“The way that UPenn invested me is the way I would love our city to be able to invest in every citizen looking for an education,” he says.
The face of diversity
As Matysik prepares to campaign, he hopes he is not the only new name running for city government next year.
He’d like to see leadership that represents the diversity of Philadelphia.
“I, as a straight, white man, should not be the sole face of what the new face of political leadership in this city looks like,” he says.