NORTH POLE, Alaska (CN) - It seems Santa Claus and at least one of his helpers have taken an interest in local and national politics from their home in North Pole, Alaska: On Monday, Santa begins his three-year term on the community's city council while - according to the Federal Election Commission - "Buddy The Elf" will launch his 2016 write-in campaign for president of the United States from his listed home address of The North Pole, North Pole, Alaska.
It remains to be seen whether Buddy is in fact real, and will continue his bid for the presidency.
But Santa Claus does exist, and he'll be representing the roughly 2,000 residents of a town that has long described itself "where the spirit of Christmas lives year round." Every day of the year the community displays decorations giving it the appearance of Santa's village, and for 62 years a local business called The Santa Claus House has been responding to millions of naughty and nice children from around the world by sending an official North Pole-postmarked letter from Santa.
Newly elected Councilman Claus, 68, is not affiliated with the aforementioned business, nor does he regularly listen to children's requests for the latest computer game or fancy doll. Instead when children ask if he'll bring them presents he asks them to tell him what they will do to help others first.
"Rather than encouraging the commercial aspect of Christmas I like to make the point that the greatest gift is love," Claus said, reached by telephone at his home.
Born in Washington, D.C., as Thomas O'Connor, Claus grew up in Manhattan and later worked for various public safety departments including the police department. Seeing firsthand the plight of childhood abuse, neglect, and poverty led him to take on an advocacy role by becoming an Anglican monk with the Celtic order of Anam Cara.
In 2005 while living in Nevada, he legally changed his name to Santa Claus when he began growing his big white beard and friends commented on his resemblance to jolly St. Nick. Claus also realized that having the name of the beloved childhood legend would help him advance his child-protection platform, and a move north seemed the natural next step in his evolving persona.
Claus moved to North Pole in 2013 and almost immediately became involved in community affairs, serving as the president of the North Pole Chamber of Commerce. He promotes himself through a website and a Facebook page that describe him as "advocating for millions of vulnerable children in dire straits," and as "endorsing federal and state legislation and products and services that improve child health, safety and welfare."
He launched a write-in campaign two weeks before the Oct. 6 election after discovering two council seats remained open with no official candidates. The second open seat was filled by a local youth pastor who launched her write-in campaign after Claus.
This is not the first time Claus has run for public office, pitching his own write-in campaign for president in 2008 and 2012 where he appeared on the ballot in 16 states. His slogan then was "Restoring America's heart and soul." For the next few years, though, he will turn his own heart and soul to the needs of his local community.
Claus expects he'll spend much of his time on the council fostering an agenda of responsible growth to help North Pole address its budget crunch - one that he says most municipalities throughout the state and nation are experiencing.
Another potential revenue-generator his town and others in Alaska are considering is the legalization of marijuana and the opening of cannabis dispensaries. Claus uses medical marijuana to treat his own cancer and prior council members got to know him when they were deciding on whether to allow dispensaries to set up shop within town limits.
"There was more opposition to the idea prior to my speaking out on the issue," Claus said. "I spoke from my experience as a special assistant to the New York City deputy police commissioner, and that of a user."
In a June vote on the issue, the council rejected a proposed ban on cannabis sales.
"Because of the way adolescent brains develop, I do not advocate use by anyone under the age of 24 except on the advice of a doctor," Claus added. "For those it can help, why should we not offer it here rather than send people to another city?"
As far as knowing Buddy the Elf and his plan to run for president in 2016, Claus chuckled and said this elf is not known to him and that he was unaware of Buddy's presidential bid.
"No idea, but I am now certainly going to look into who that might be," Claus said.
In the meantime he wishes everyone a blessing of "a lifetime filled with happiness, peace, good health, prosperity and most of all love."
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