In less than one month, 2013 Engineering graduate Rick Krajewski will assume office as to represent Philadelphia’s 188th district, which encompasses Penn’s campus in University City and surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhoods.
Krajewski defeated three opponents in the June Democratic primary election. Afterwards, he spoke with The Daily Pennsylvanian about his campaign's three priorities, which are to enact progressive state healthcare and criminal justice reform, connect underprivileged Philadelphians with essential government services, and provide relief for small businesses and workers.
Facing no challengers in November’s general election, the DP spoke to Krajewski once again about his goals in office, campaigning during COVID-19, and Penn's role in the West Philadelphia community.
As Philadelphia's daily case count continues to surge, and local businesses and restaurants adjust to the city’s tightening limitations, Krajewski said that alleviating issues of economic insecurity will be one of his office's main focuses.
After witnessing the pandemic's financial and social impact of the pandemic on the community, Krajewski added that one of his most urgent action items will be to ensure that his office is responsive and reactive to the needs of Philadelphians, so that district residents feel comfortable and heard by their local government.
“[The pandemic] required us to be really compassionate about our outreach. We’re trying to make sure people have what they need to get through this really hard moment," Krajewski said. "We try to check in and make sure folks are okay, and establish a real connection before launching into canvassing pitches. I think that was a big shift for us, just in that change in the way people expected campaigns to operate.”
He noted that from the beginning of his campaign back in December 2019 to the present day, methods of virtual communication — such as utilizing social media platforms and hosting virtual text and phone banking — are increasingly vital to forming relationships with residents in the 188th district.
As a former student in Penn Engineering, Krajewski said he had not always dreamed of entering the realm of politics. But after working in a Philadelphia public school and realizing the school district's lack of access to educational resources – and subsequent disproportionate effects on the city's low-income communities of color – he became drawn to political organizing. This led him to kickstart his career in local politics by organizing for Reclaim Philadelphia, an organization which supports progressive reform efforts and candidates for office within the city.
“I was drawn to [the field] because I'm a young working-class black man that has been impacted by our systems of racism and capitalism, and I've seen how it affects my loved ones. I've seen how it's affecting my community, so I had a real stake in trying to become more involved. Really, to know what skin you have in the game allows you to be more effective,” Krajewski said. “Otherwise, when it gets hard, or when you start to lose focus, it's easy to opt out or not be as committed.”
He emphasized that Penn students who are interested in politics and community organizing should never lose sight of what inspired their work in the first place.
“So, I think that [Penn students] should think about, you know, why it is that they're motivated to do that? What does that have to do with their own personal conditions? Because these things help you to build more authentic bonds with the people that you're going to work with, which is so important.”
Krajewski brings his Penn experiences to his career in local politics, aware of the impact the University has on its surrounding neighborhoods as one of Philadelphia's leading employers.
After facing widespread backlash from Penn's refusal to pay PILOTs to the city of Philadelphia, Krajewski believes Penn's recent announcement that it will contribute $100 million to the School District of Philadelphia over the course of the next ten years is “a step in the right direction.”
Krajewski added, however, that he would like to see more collaboration between Penn and the city of Philadelphia to provide funding sources for public resources, as well as foster more community input at the table regarding the University’s policies, community benefit agreements, and other developments Penn can launch.
“You know, as an alum, I’m really glad to see it happening, but of course our schools need way more than $10 million a year,” Krajewski said.
Krajewski also emphasized that student activism on Penn’s campus is a necessary tool in holding the University accountable in the role it can play to bridge financial gaps in the West Philadelphia, a community that it calls home. He added that students should build alliances with faculty and administration to have a greater influence in decisions that impact the local community.
“We are all stakeholders [in this community] through our people who are part of their network, and I think it's incumbent upon us to do what we can to have those honest conversations with the University about how it can do better," Krajewski said. "As members of the Penn community, that is critical for students to realize.”
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