Wade Spees // The Post and Courier
Carl Livingston personally called more than 5,000 likely city voters and asked them to support Mayor Joe Riley for re-election. Livingston, from Savannah, has been homeless for four years.
Carl Livingston, a 52-year-old homeless man from Savannah, was meeting some friends after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting when he happened to pass by Mayor Joe Riley's re-election headquarters.
Brandon Upson, head of the Mayor's Neighborhood Corps, saw Livingston and just happened to ask him if he would volunteer for the campaign.
Livingston, who had heard good things about Riley since he arrived in town a year ago, just happened to say sure, why not?
Those events took place late last summer, and Livingston since became the mayor's hardest-working volunteer by far -- one who shared the stage with him at Tuesday night's victory party.
Livingston began by assembling a very large campaign mailing. He charged phones and iPads and would tidy up Riley's upper Meeting Street headquarters at the end of the day.
Campaign manager Ginny Deerin initially wondered what the campaign would do with a homeless volunteer. She then noticed Livingston's
personality and decided to give him a try making calls.
Since then, he personally has called more than 5,000 likely city voters asking them if they would support the mayor Tuesday. Statistically, it's possible that Livingston talked to every other person who voted to re-elect the mayor.
"I've never done a campaign before, but I'm wise. I've seen what's going on," Livingston said. "We know Mayor Riley is dependable, and he's honest."
Livingston since has met Riley several times and has expanded his telephone talking points to cite the city's falling crime rate, its AAA credit rating, the success of the S.C. Aquarium, the jobs that cruise ships provide and more.
Livingston also noted that Riley has been a big supporter of Crisis Ministries, the homeless shelter just a few blocks north of Riley's headquarters where Livingston sometimes stays.
Deerin said Livingston hasn't asked the campaign for anything, though it has provided him with food, some new clothes, even an occasional place to stay -- particularly after Livingston showed up one day with bug bites indicating that he had spent the night outside.
Livingston said he has been homeless for four years and came to Charleston to visit friends. He lost his job on the Savannah docks several years ago, was injured and is working to secure disability because of his handicap.
"Money means nothing to me," Livingston said. "I'm happy, though. I don't ask nobody for nothing. I don't panhandle. I don't drink. I don't do drugs."
The back of one of Livingston's hands has a faded tattoo that reads, "Keep on Tokin." Asked about that, Livingston said, "That was from back in my days when I didn't have no sense."
Deerin estimated Livingston has logged between 70 and 80 hours of volunteer work a week. After an early campaign forum in which Riley was hammered for an hour by his opponents, Livingston, who had circular "Joe" stickers all over his shirt, was upbeat.
"I haven't had that good of a time in years," Deerin recalled him saying.
"He's just so new to this political process that he sees it in a fresh way that gets you in touch with how great political campaigns and political action and citizenry is. It's contagious."
Riley, who called out Livingston as he thanked his biggest backers Tuesday night, said Livingston's generous volunteer work has been "very helpful and uplifting."
"His personality -- outgoing, engaging, enthusiastic, generous -- has been a great help," Riley added. "He's really just a very nice man."
Asked what he will do next, once the campaign is over, Livingston smiled and said, "I don't worry about that. What happens happens. My main concern is right now. I just don't know about tomorrow. I can't say."