Seattle’s Unlikeliest City Council Candidate

by Kelsey Hamlin

His wardrobe is humdrum, his speech informal, and reason for running ad hoc. His name is Eric Smiley. You may have met him at a bus stop or in the tunnel stations, because that’s how he’s trying to compete with the large sums of campaign money backing other councilmember candidates.

But he also just wants to hear what Seattleites are concerned about. There’s one thing distinctly unique about Smiley, however. He is homeless, and has been for three years.

Eric Smiley
Eric Smiley [Photo: Kelsey Hamlin]
Sitting at a cafe table, Smiley looks very much like a typical, scruffy, pacific northwest dad — though he isn’t one. His hair gives away his age. The 56 year-old strands are pepper grey, speckled with white and black, and while Smiley’s eyebrows are dark and bushy, they don’t hide his kind aura.

Smiley was first struck with the thought of running for Seattle City Council back in January.

“Trump gets elected President, and you think really anybody can win,” he said. “There’s a desire for outsiders in politics.”

For Smiley to make it into candidacy, he has to file by tomorrow, May 19, and gather $1,233.59 for the filing fee. Despite Smiley’s continuing efforts, he doesn’t feel that elections allow average joes to participate, even with the signature gathering option.

Seattle’s Democracy voucher program allows people to contribute up to $100 of vouchers (an individual can contribute up to $500 to a candidate in a total), and instead of paying a fee candidates can opt to gather 1,234 signatures instead. Both requirements, Smiley felt, are quite lofty.

When musing on America’s fetish with individualism, he laughed. “I think 56 is kind of a ways on to start pulling your bootstraps,” Smiley chuckled about his candidacy.

Prior to running, Smiley wasn’t too familiar with City Hall’s inner workings. To change that, he’s routinely attended hearings and public meetings for the past three months.

“I want to bring some imagination to City Hall,” he said. Eyes sparkling, he tossed around the idea of seeing whether Seattle could meet a goal of using one percent less water next year, and allowing free AA degrees in healthcare or education to better society and communities.

Of all that he’s seen out of Seattle City Councilmembers, Smiley respects Lorena González the most, noting her fights for family leave and the defense fund for immigration.

Smiley himself is a big education advocate, having a collegiate and teacher’s background. He even reads to preschoolers every week at Beacon Hill’s Refugee Women’s Alliance preschool.

“I think it’s a joke they get some soda tax to pay for preschool education but get the million dollar bond for Key Arena,” Smiley commented. He also feels strongly about reallocating money. He wants to see the city stop worrying about bike lanes and start worrying about school. Smiley also wants tougher negotiating on the HALA deal. One area he’s not familiar with, however, is police reform.

Aloud Smiley contemplated self-taxation. He feels there’s enough rich people who are in favor of an income tax, so Smiley proposes that they opt-in. They could donate enough money to the city to where it would cancel out what they’d otherwise pay in taxes by hopefully putting them below a certain threshold.

Regardless, Smiley is acutely aware of the city’s ever changing character.

“The city isn’t appreciated that much as a being,” Smiley said. “They’re kind of squeezing out service people.”

He took one last sip of his coffee — perhaps 75 percent of his diet. A true Seattleite. Smiley’s typical routine includes securing a location to sleep every night and pivots around travel to read to children and upkeep his clothes and hygiene.

Smiley’s days go like this:

He gets himself a spot at Bread of Life Mission. The doors open at 5:30 p.m., and check-in starts at 6:15 p.m. Dinner is an hour later, and last call happens around 8 o’clock.  Smiley then wakes up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning to go have breakfast. Those who stayed overnight have to be gone by 7 o’clock. More than half the people there, Smiley said, consider it their place of residence. Smiley is one of them. However, possessions cannot remain in the shelter.

In between those deadlines, Smiley goes to the YMCA to shower, and wash his clothes for the day. Smiley then runs errands, checks his mail, drinks coffee intermittently, travels to the library, and holds court at bus stops, greeting potential contributors and handing them his business cards nearly every day.

While that might sound frustrating to others, Smiley enjoys the routine.

“It makes me wonder about myself because I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “It’s amazing how little you need.”

But how does he feel about the bureaucratic process of City Hall? Smiley said he’s confident in his ability to understand circumstances. While occasionally jittery and certainly dealing with the effects of homelessness, Smiley is more than capable of overcoming his nervousness. He’s also good for a laugh.

“If it’s something I’m in favor of, it’s too slow,” Smiley said of the bill process.

While quite a ways off from being able to meet the filing deadline, Smiley’s not giving up. If he doesn’t make it, he’ll be heartbroken, he admitted, but feels something could come out of it.

“I’d rather do it and fail than not at all,” Smiley said. “You don’t have much opportunity to just talk to people at a bus stop. People have said, ‘I’ve heard about you.’ That makes it all worth it somehow.”

Kelsey 1Kelsey Hamlin is a reporter with South Seattle Emerald, and interned with the publication this summer. She has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is a University of Washington student, and the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists. Hamlin is a journalism major at the University of Washington with interdisciplinary Honors, and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see her other work on her website

Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Daniel X. O’Neil/ via Flickr

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