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For 184th candidate Tom Wyatt, it’s about jobs and schools

Wyatt, who grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania living with his mom, was shipped to his father’s house in Colorado during his freshman year of high school because he was in “so much trouble” that his mom thought his dad might shape him up.

State House candidate Tom Wyatt knocks on doors in the 184th District.

There was a time when Tom Wyatt’s future looked bleak.

“I barely graduated from high school, and after high school I didn’t have any opportunity to go to college,” said Wyatt in a phone interview with the Review. “It just wasn’t on my radar,”

So he did what anybody else would do in his position. He got a minimum wage job at Burger King.

“Shockingly, minimum wage hasn’t gone up much since I had that job,” Wyatt, who’s resided in South Philly for the past 17 years, said, “which is one of the things I’m going to work on.”

These days, Wyatt is looking out for his fellow resident as a Democratic candidate for the PA House, 184th District, in the primary election.

This was after Wyatt, who grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania living with his mom, was shipped to his father’s house in Colorado during his freshman year of high school because he was in “so much trouble” that his mom thought his dad might shape him up.

He flipped burgers for an entire year before getting into Colorado State University with the help of a friend’s dad who wrote letters of recommendation for him. It was part of an experiment CSU was conducting, in which it accepted 90 subprime students into the school with the condition of putting them on academic probation. For Wyatt, the experiment worked. He graduated with honors.

“I also ended up being deeply involved in campus life — whether it be student government or clubs,” he said. “They connected me to the school, and that’s been a theme of my life going forward is trying to reach back and get people connected to their school and to their community.”

After graduating, he taught for Teach for America for two years in the Mississippi Delta. Then he moved to New York City, where he was one of 25 people to complete an urban fellowship. He served as a special assistant to the city’s Department of Investigations, where he got to play a minor role in the city’s investigation into the Fulton Fish Market, which was run by the mafia.

If you paid the right people, Wyatt said, your truck full of fish would get unloaded in a timely manner. But if you didn’t pay the right people, your truck wouldn’t get unloaded. Instead, it would sit until the fish went rotten.

“I spent time writing reports about the progress in the Fulton Fish Market [investigation] and at the time it was pretty topical and exciting,” Wyatt told the Review. However, he admits that he didn’t get to any “in the field” work. Still, he made connections and gained mentors from many people, including one who became a federal judge.

“Again the theme of people taking time to take interest in me and to be serious about public service and about people,” he said. “It’s the thing that inspired me to try and do the work I’m doing.”

After his urban fellowship, Wyatt retreated back to Colorado to work at a halfway house for a year before spending three years in law school at UC Berkeley. Then he retreated back to Philly.

“A lot of my friends had come here,” he said. “I visited a couple times during law school and fell in love with it and decided this is where I want to spend my life.”

Wyatt, who, by the way, you might remember from his failed bit for an at-large city council seat back in 2015, is currently employed as a lawyer for Dilworth Paxson. He’s been there for the past three and a half years. He’s 46.

On the policy front, Wyatt stressed schools and jobs more than anything else.

“A lot of people I talk to are concerned about the future of their particular profession or their ability to get the kind of training they need to advance,” he said. “And some people are unemployed and they’re trying to get employed.”

The solution? Wyatt, who has met with many local business owners to discuss the issue, came up with this:

“On the first day I’m going to be hiring a chief of jobs,” he said. “The focus will be to help identify, meet with, and attract people in the neighborhood — unemployed, underemployed [and those] who are looking for new opportunities. We will get them connected to employers and get them trained so that they can succeed in the career that they are looking for.”

Wyatt is also particularly passionate about schooling for a variety of reasons. Among them are his daughter, who’s a kindergartener at Andrew Jackson School, and his soon-to-be 4-year-old son, who will also attend the school once he’s old enough. Wyatt said he was instrumental — along with the help of his fellow neighbors — in helping to form the Friends of Jackson group.

Additionally, he’s a regular at Passyunk Square Civic Association meetings. He was heavily involved in zoning at one point and was also the group’s education chair.

He’s also particularly concerned about the region’s opioid epidemic, which he said South Philly was “hit very hard by.” He’s open to the idea of safe injection sites.

“You can’t treat somebody unless they’re alive,” he said of those struggling with opiates. “So we’ve got to be working hard to get people safe and get them to treatment. I’m very open to the kind creative solutions that perhaps an injection site would bring. I think there’s a lot of public scrutiny and whatnot that needs to be examined and understood, but again people have to be alive in order to get the treatment.”

Another big issue for Wyatt is where he gets his money from.

“I am elevating people over PACs and big money and I’m spending my time talking to real life South Philadelphians,” he said. “I’m not spending my time talking to big money donors. When I get to Harrisburg I’m going to be a Democratic but independent voice fighting tirelessly for South Philadelphians, and I’m going to be doing it from the concept of a guy who’s been living and working in South Philadelphia for years.”

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