A different brand of student politician

In Features, News /

By Shasha Nakhai

Sitting in the Hub Cafeteria, Mario Pileggi is sporting jeans and a baseball cap that displays the Italian flag. Beneath the hat, his dark features and bright brown eyes are hard to miss. Pileggi looks like an average student, but he is far from normal: Pileggi is running for a trustee position on the Toronto Catholic District School Board this November.

The 23-year-old president of Ryerson’s Italian Cultural Club, Pileggi is the youngest person currently running for the position. Most of the other candidates are between 40 and 60, with a few in their late 20s and 30s.

The fourth-year Early Childhood Education student went to high school at St. Michael’s College School and earned his Ontario Academic Credits at Dante Alighieri Academy ­— giving him a fresh look on the Catholic school system and leaving him open to criticism about his age.

Pileggi says he would rather people vote for him regardless of his age. In fact, he thinks “it’s good to have someone who can still see things from the perspective of the student.”

In high school, he saw a need for change, but also saw all the good his principals and trustees did for him. “I want to be that person for that little Mario,” he says, smiling. His older brother also held office as a trustee in 1997.

Michael Wallace, the principal of Chaminade College School, says Pileggi’s age does not matter. “If you’re going to be a Catholic trustee, you need to know what goes on and obviously he (Pileggi) would.”

Ryerson graduate Chris Tindal was 24 when he ran as a Green Party candidate in last January’s election. Tindal says the challenges of running in an election are the same regardless of age: finding time and money. “You have no personal life for the duration of the campaign.” During his campaign, Tindal said some days that began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 1:30 a.m.

The same is true for Pileggi. During our interview at 9 a.m., he admits he’s running off one hour of sleep. There is little time to rest when Pileggi is going to meetings, public appearances, and speaking to children and parents. He struggles to balance this with his studies, but is currently satisfied with his academic performance. Pileggi says he enjoys his hectic schedule. “I look forward to waking up in the morning and knowing I have x, y and z to complete by 6 o’clock. It keeps you on your tippy-toes.”

He also doesn’t see his the campaign as a sacrifice, because if he becomes a trustee, it will all be worth it.

Pileggi’s platform is straightforward: he wants to reduce class sizes, upgrade or restore facilities, and teach better conflict management skills to students and staff in an effort to reduce violence.

“The facilities students are in right now are absolutely horrific … One school in particular needs to be wiped out and rebuilt from scratch.”

Wallace agrees facilities are a pivotal issue. He thinks the management of the budget is an important issue because the bulk of the funds are spent on facilities.

Pileggi does not have a part-time job so he has to find alternative ways to raise his own funds, like cold calling people to ask for donations.

The current trustee, Barbara Poplawski, has the benefit of being the incumbent, but Pileggi says Poplawski has been in power for too long. “She’s tired…she’s out of touch with the students and cannot relate anymore.”

When Tindal ran in the federal election, he wanted to relate with voters, especially the youth. He says people respected him and listened to what he had to say in spite of his age. Out of the thousands of doors he knocked on, he only encountered one woman who made a rude comment about his age.

“She sort of laughed and said ‘Do you shave?’ But she took the flier anyway. I think she was trying to be funny.”

Pileggi’s campaign began in January and consists of going from door to door, meeting with parents and children, going to parent-teacher meetings, and distributing signs and literature.

The key to getting where he is now was networking and meeting the right people. He was fortunate to have met Adam Giambrone, another young politician. Giambrone, a 29-year-old city councillor and key ally of Toronto mayor David Miller, endorsed Pileggi for this election and is running hand in hand with him for re-election.

If Pileggi wins the municipal election on November 13, his responsibilities will include setting policies for the school board, answering inquiries from the public and parents’ concerns, and representing the board at functions and meetings.

If he doesn’t win, well that’s another story — one Pileggi would prefer not to talk about.

“I’m too busy to worry about my future plans … my main focus is the election right now. When I win I will have a four year term.”

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