"Hey, You're the $18 Guy" 

Riding a one-issue horse on the campaign trail

The day before the election, I did some last-minute campaigning downtown. In need of a lunch break, I drove over to the Sav-On Cafe. After I was seated, the owner said, "Hey, you're the $18 guy." He was referring to the media reporting campaign expenditures for city council candidates. My opponent, Vern Bisterfeldt, had spent over $5000 by the October 23 cut-off date for that report. I had spent $18.43.

Such is the life of a one-issue candidate running a no-frills campaign. My platform was a simple one: If you are upset about the closure of Community House, then vote for me. I knew by virtue of my name on the ballot, I would be able to get my message to the voters. Yet, as a one-issue candidate, I had a luxury not afforded the other candidates.

I could speak my mind.

At the last of the candidate forums, held at Capital High School, the audience left no doubt that a burning issue for that area was their discontent over the widening of Ustick Road. Needing to placate no one, I was able to give my unabashed opinion. While other candidates tossed out words like "collaboration," "partnership" and "dialogue," I said: "If you buy a home bordering a major arterial road in a growing city, then you have to expect it to be widened." I received no applause for that one. At an earlier forum, a voter asked about annexation. My reply was: "When I was homeless, I was prosecuted, persecuted, yelled at, vilified, but I was never annexed." That reply provoked a lot of laughter.

Of course, homelessness is not a funny issue. When the mayor and city council ditched the Community House shelter by turning it over to the Boise Rescue Mission, they created a net loss of 73 housing units--not a good thing, on the eve of another cold Boise winter. I know. I walked through 90-plus days of a shelterless, homeless winter in 1994 and 1995.

In December 1994, I wrote a letter to the editor of Boise Weekly after it ran an article out of Texas by a writer appalled that a mainstream Los Angeles talk show host had presented as a topic one day, "Should we put the homeless to sleep?"

BW liked my reply, as a homeless person, and asked me to write. I had survived those first five weeks by asking for odd jobs at businesses. Then, I got arrested for that crime. So, for about three weeks, I became the stereotypical street beggar, in my beard and dirty jacket. I hated that.

About a week after BW published my "Top Ten Reasons Why the Homeless Pity You," the light bulb went on in my head. I printed up copies for a nickel and asked for one quarter donations.

Then, about a month later, a police officer told me to cease and desist until I went to City Hall to see if I needed a vendor's license.

To this day, I don't know where that vendor's license office is. I followed his edict to go to City Hall, but I detoured and walked into the Mayor's office. I sat across from the Mayor's secretary and asked: "How is it going to look if the media gets ahold of the fact that the city bureaucracy required a homeless man to pay, say, $25 or $50 for a vendor's license to ask for a vendor's license to ask for 25-cent donations for a Top Ten list he had published in BW?"

She left the room without saying a word. I was certain she went to call the police. Yet, I was just a citizen petitioning my government. I had done nothing wrong. She walked back in a man in a three-piece suit. He waved me into an adjoining conference room. He asked me to explain my homelessness. I recounted the whole Rodney Dangerfield experience. He said: "I've followed your homeless writings in BW. I always wanted to help, but I never knew who you were." He explained that he was the director of Boise Housing and Community Development, and he offered me one month's rent for a third-floor, single-room occupancy rental apartment at Community House, to give me a chance to get on my feet.

I rented that apartment for over two years and rebuilt my life. I saw other lives rebuilt at Community House as well. During that time, I also became active in the [Boise City-Ada County] Homeless coalition.

However, it's common to reach a point where you want to move on from such an experience. So I did. Yet, in late August of this year, I read of the dismantling of Community House. When I saw no one I could vote for to protest its closure, my one-issue campaign was born.

Of course, to run for office on one issue required me to sublimate my ego to the cause. Election night went pretty quickly. I spent the evening playing Scrabble with my campaign treasurer and my roommates at the nice West Boise home I rent. It's kind of hard to have an election night at gatherings with my constituency, since they are scattered around the city sipping coffee to stay warm or huddled under blankets in a parked car somewhere.

The final vote tally: Vern Bisterfeldt, 78 percent; Mark Seeley, 22 percent. Conventional wisdom holds I suffered a crushing defeat. Not so. My one-issue campaign was a victory because I tried to speak for a constituency who can't even vote, since they are without addresses. I may have engaged someone to become active on the homeless issue. And I made a statement about participatory democracy.

Do you have a cause or an issue? Well, next election, climb on your one-issue horse and hit the campaign trail. You might just make a difference.

To contact the Boise City-Ada County Homeless Coalition, call 345-2820. To read Seeley's 1995 BW contribution "Top Ten Reasons the Homeless Pity You," visit www.boiseweekly.com.

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