By the time Matt Johnson was in sixth grade, he knew two things: he was a fast runner, and he knew how to use words as a means of non-violent persuasion. More times than not, the two went hand in hand.
In high school, he used his gift of gab to convince people from his high school to write in votes for the candidate he wanted during the Bush/Clinton election. Though he was sick from school that day, his teacher made sure to call Johnson’s mom to let her know that he had garnered an absurdly amount of support for this candidate.
It was then that Johnson realized a career in politics could be in his future.
Fast forward to 2017, Johnson is now 34, and is an adjunct philosophy professor running for Lancaster City Council. And, he is likely still a fast runner. Some things never change.
The campaign wasn’t completely a surprise, given his past experiences with politics. “I’ve always wanted to get involved,” Johnson said. “I’m finally feeling a place in my life to get to it.”
Johnson admitted that the Trump election may have tipped his hat, encouraging him to join in the city council race. “[Lancaster lives] in a little bubble,” Johnson said, noting that it’s a ‘nice bubble.’
“[But] people just assume that things will continue as they always have,” Johnson said, citing recent controversial policies, including immigration and Meals on Wheels. Under Mayor Richard Gray, these aspects have remained unwavered; however, Gray has recently announced that he will not be running for mayor when his term ends.
“I think he’s been an amazing steward,” said Johnson.
Making Lancaster a better place
Johnson intends on continuing many of the policies that Gray enacted or continued, such as making Lancaster a sanctuary city, or a city that allows immigrants to live without documentation without fear of exportation.
At the end of January, Lancaster held a vigil for refugees which brought in over 2,000 people. Johnson cites this as a reason for continuing with that plan.
“I don’t think it’s a tough sell,” Johnson said. “I think people value the diversity here.”
This is one of many issues he is very keen about changing. Another lesser-known issue is the lead paint situation in Lancaster city buildings. As a city council member, he said he wanted to find a way to ensure that children were living in safe places that were sealed off from lead paint.
“I don’t have delusions about what a city council member can do solely through legislative means,” Johnson said in a PennLive article. However, he remains realistic.
“It’s not enough to know what the problems and solutions are,” Johnson said. “You have to work the system.”
Teaching at Millersville
As of now, Johnson is a philosophy adjunct at Millersville University. Running for city council will not change his role in teaching, he said. On top of this, he balances being an entertainer, a host, a musician, an emcee, a husband and a father.
“[Being a city council member] is not a full time job, but it is a pretty significant job,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make sure it could fit in with my job as a professor.”
Johnson said that his experience with academia left him with the ability to be fine-tuned to many different needs in a given time. He is not one to go off of lesson plans that he created last year; he said he adapts the course to fit the students’ needs.
Because of this adaptive way of thinking, he has garnered a lot of support from his past students, whom he said have been popping up left and right to help with his campaign.
Johnson said that over spring break, two students that he used to tutor texted him asking if they could help with his campaign; they all went canvassing in Lancaster city.
“It was a really great testimonial to have,” Johnson said.
In addition to students, Johnson has also attracted the likes of surrounding community members. Emilie Stoltzfus, a 31-year-old student at HACC, was introduced through a mutual friend. Shortly after meeting with Johnson and asking questions, she started working with him and his campaign.
“It’s [Johnson’s] authenticity that makes [him] a trustworthy guy that you want to grab a beer and talk to,” Stoltzfus said. “I know with his background and education he will carefully consider the decisions ahead of him.”
What sets him apart?
While many other candidates for city council may also be multifaceted like Johnson, he said what sets him away is his personality.
“I have a desperate fear of letting people down,” Johnson said. “If I feel like that’s a possibility, I’m gonna work at it… pour my energy and thoughts into it.”
Johnson said he worries about other city council candidates giving similar answers to questions at open forums, but he said he knows he can back up what he says with action.
“I stand out as I am,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a natural extension of my personality.”
On Valentine’s Day, Johnson hosted a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Elks Lodge in Lancaster. Despite his reservations about how the public could view him, he went and let his character shine through. However, Johnson is no stranger to community events; he said he will often visit openings and support local businesses in Lancaster.
Even if Johnson does not win, he said he will still continue working with people and orchestrating events in the community as a Human Relations Commissioner.
“I would, of course, be crestfallen,” Johnson said. “But I would keep on doing all of the things I already do to try to help the city I love.”