CLEAN CUT Jerzyk lost the ponytail near the end of law school.
Not long after helping David Cicilline win election as mayor of Providence nearly a decade ago, Matt Jerzyk, then a ponytailed activist and budding political operative, made a decision that has come to define his place in the rough-and-tumble world of local politics.
Angry that Cicilline had not followed through on a campaign pledge to support a living wage ordinance, Jerzyk leafleted a fundraiser held for the mayor, explaining to anyone who would listen why he felt Cicilline had gone back on his word.
For Cicilline, no doubt, it felt like a stab in the back from a son (they didn't speak for a year). The two had become close since Cicilline, then a lawyer and state representative, represented Jerzyk after he was arrested the night before his 1999 graduation from Brown University for taking pictures of police officers using excessive force to break up a gathering of students downtown.
But for Jerzyk, who credits Cicilline with getting him involved with local political causes, politicians have always been a means to an end. A self-proclaimed "issues guy," he has championed efforts to increase voter participation on the South Side and served as an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Jobs with Justice.
For those who identified with his ideals, Jerzyk did whatever he could to get them elected and keep them in office (he counts State Representative Grace Diaz, State Senator Juan Pichardo, and the late Councilman Miguel Luna as success stories).
To hell with everyone else.
"The score for me was not about winning or losing elections, it was always about winning the issues," Jerzyk says. "I was so intent on changing the world at all costs. I didn't care about anything else."
That mentality has made Jerzyk as polarizing as he is successful. Perhaps best known for being the "blogfather" of Rhode Island by starting the progressive political blog Rhode Island's Future, Jerzyk has clashed with many of the prominent politicians he now works alongside in his role as director of policy and municipal affairs and senior counsel to Mayor Angel Taveras.
Over the course of his four years running the site, Jerzyk pulled no punches, handing out his annual DINO (Democrat in Name Only) of the Year award while criticizing the likes of State Representative Arthur Corvese, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard, former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, and former gubernatorial candidate Myrth York. In a state dominated by one party, Rhode Islanders flocked to the site for a mix of political gossip, policy analysis, and the occasional Jerzyk hissy fit.
"A lot of the things I wrote, I can't remember," he says. "But the politicians remember everything. Sometimes I've had to admit that I was wrong."
While the gossip element of the blog may have produced the majority of the page views, it also became a landing ground for the activist community — and remained so after Jerzyk sold the site. More than a few political campaigns have been launched on rifuture.org and many have been successful thanks to the army of bloggers willing to publish any and all opposition research on the candidates' DINO — or even Republican — foes.