Jesus White, the homeless "genius" who gained 418 votes in a run for Mayor in last year's Democratic primary, is dead at the age of 58.
He was found July 29 in his second-floor apartment in the 2300 block of Thompson Street, his window open, without a fan or air conditioner, according to the city Health Department, who oversees the Coroner's Office. He had been dead "nearly a week," Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran said.
White, formerly James Bolton, studied music and education at Southern University, and was called a "genius" who could play any instrument in a 2007 Inquirer profile. Read the profile below:
Apr 29, 2007
By April Saul INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The candidate has been sleeping in Bed No. 131.
In fact, it's here at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission at 13th and Pearl Streets that 56-year-old Jesus White - who has been homeless for 13 years - got the idea to run for mayor of Philadelphia.
It was right after White attended a service. Chaplain Mike Caraballo remembers that the theme was "Follow your dream; reach out for your dream. "
"And all of a sudden, he says, 'Well, I'd like to be mayor,' " Caraballo recalls.
The soft-spoken White, who favors vests and sportcoats from Goodwill, quickly amassed the 2,000 signatures necessary to be on the Democratic primary ballot.
Campaigning, however, is especially hard when you're homeless and working.
On a typical day, White is up by 6 a.m. After breakfast, he takes the C bus to a South Philadelphia storage facility where he rents a space the size of a large closet. There he picks up the uniform he wears in his 30-hour-a-week job as a guard for Scotland Yard Security. Then it's another bus ride to a drop-in center to shower and change.
White's only real campaign expense is the $1,000 he paid for 16 premium-quality posters, a thousand postcards, and a handful of hats and T-shirts - all of which show him wearing a crown with the Constitution or American flag as a background and slogans like "Safety, Solvency, and Sobriety for All. "
"I have a propensity to save," explains White, though he says he can't afford his own place. He has been on a waiting list for public housing for several years.
With White's posters costing roughly $60 apiece, the hanging of each one is a major campaign event. In March, White decided to place the first one in the second-story window of a repair shop on North Old York Road that a friend had offered up as a "campaign headquarters. " White picked his way through a room littered with bike parts, and climbed onto a radiator. The suction cups he bought wouldn't hold, so he taped the poster to the glass. Later, he admired his work from the street and beamed.
White spent his early years in Philadelphia, then moved to DeRidder, La., when his father, an Army staff sergeant, was transferred. He studied music and education at Southern University, he says.
At the mayor's office in DeRidder, receptionist Kathy Bruner remembers White - known back then as James Bolton. He ran for mayor of that small town and lost, she says.
"He is pretty much a genius," Bruner says, "and he could play just about every instrument. " White taught plenty of children in DeRidder how to play piano before moving back to Philadelphia in the 1990s, she says.
White is not prepared to sacrifice his love of music, books, and all things spiritual for the campaign. Though he says he's Jewish and wears a yarmulke, he helps lead prayer services and plays piano regularly at the Second Pilgrim Baptist Church at 15th and Poplar Streets. And he spends most afternoons at the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library because, he says, he wants to learn.
White has attended a handful of candidate forums. Sometimes he's allowed to speak alongside his more powerful rivals; sometimes he's not. On April 4, White showed up at a forum sponsored by Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth at his beloved library. After seeing another long-shot candidate, Queena Bass, denied participation, White settled for greeting the others and handing out postcards.
"I'm trying to keep a positive attitude," he says. "I shook Fattah's hand, but I didn't let them downsize me. "
When he does get to express his views, White is unassuming and gracious; he calls it "polite politics. " He supports causes like affirmative action and gay rights, and says he wants to use the mayor's office to bring more religion into people's lives.
At the breakfast mission, White gets lots of atta-boys and high-fives as he explains his candidacy to other homeless men.
"I'm running," he tells them, "for the redemption of the less fortunate. I'm running for the poor. "
Caraballo, the chaplain, watches and smiles. "It doesn't matter whether Jesus wins or loses," he says. "He adds fire to people's dreams. "
Contact April Saul at 215-854-2872 or firstname.lastname@example.org.