Maybe you’ve seen him: the guy calling down fire and brimstone on the Asheville City Council and whipping out a rainbow sock puppet named Charlie to drive the point home.
Or maybe you’ve encountered the red-robed, staff-bearing preacher on the street. Or seen his program, False Profit, on public-access channel URTV.
Find him where you may, Chris Chiaromonte is primed to tackle the city’s most touchy topics, from homelessness to economic disparities to civil liberties. His message doesn’t always get across: Mayor Terry Bellamy, for example, has gaveled Charlie into silence, proclaiming that people, not puppets, are entitled to speak in the Council chamber.
A 52-year-old jack-of-many-trades who moved to Asheville six years ago, Chiaromonte says that while he appears before Council as both a prophet and an ordinary citizen, “Mostly I’m there as a court jester, trying to pop a little of the air out from between their ears.”
This year, Chiaromonte, who says he lives in a tent “on private land, with permission” in the Montford neighborhood, raised the bar by mounting a run for City Council. In the Oct. 9 primary, Chiaromonte finished last among the 15-candidate field, racking up 171 votes.
But he’s still in the race. “I talked to the Board of Elections, and they told me that I can run as a write-in candidate,” says Chiaromonte. “I don’t give up easy.” When God tells you to run, he says, you better do it.
Mountain Xpress: What brought you to Asheville?
Chris Chiaromonte: The Lord did. I love this city, but basically the only reason I’m staying here is that there’s something about Asheville the Lord wants to do, and he’s got me here until he does it.
What do you like most about Asheville?
The diversity and the openness.
What do you like least?
Uh, the City Council. Actually, yeah, the City Council. It’s focused on the rich and the high-class people. There’s nothing wrong with being rich or just being high-class. It’s just that you can’t have a city of all rich; it just doesn’t work. Who’s going to cook your food? Who’s going to clean your apartment? Asheville has a chance to be diverse and to be a city for all people, and not just for a small few. And the problem is, the City Council and the mayor are only focusing on the money.
Maybe you’ve already said it, but what made you decide to run for office?
The Lord just said, ‘Run.’ I’ve been dealing with City Council for six years, and for six years they’ve pretty much not listened to a word I said. … Each one of the prophecies I’ve given City Council has come true. With the first one, I told them that they’re treating the poor as if they’re nothing, and I said, “You’ve sown the wind, you’ll reap the whirlwind.” And three days later, winds came through Asheville and blew trees and power lines all over the place.
What’s your present work?
I am a minister full time. Now, a lot of people might say, “Well, this is the strangest ministry I’ve ever seen.” I don’t have a church; my ministry’s on the streets. In fact, Pritchard Park is my church, and I’ve been banned from there because I got caught with a couple of joints in the park. I’m banned for life. If I show up there I get a trespassing charge.
So how you do minister there?
Well, thankfully, I’m not banned from the sidewalk around the park.
What form does your ministry take?
Sometimes it’s proclaiming awe for Jesus to someone who doesn’t know about the Lord. Sometimes it’s just listening to friends who just need to vent. That’s the biggest ministry, more than anything: A lot of times, people are bringing their problems to you not to hear a solution but just to be able to have someone they can vent to that will listen, and that’s primarily what I do. I’m counterculture, but I’ll minister to anybody. You know, Jesus was counterculture, in essence.
You list your party affiliation as “Cannabis and Yahweh Party.” Is that your own party?
I’m the only member right now, that I know of. But a lot of people are supportive.
How did you react to finishing dead last in the primary?
I think it’s great. I was only figuring on one vote—my vote—so I got 170 more votes than I figured on. … I wanted to prove that you can run and not spend any money on it. For national campaigns, I can see needing a lot of money, but for city campaigns?
Whether or not you get elected to Council, what are your plans for the future?
I still plan to go to the meetings, and I still plan to speak out for our Constitution—because that’s the greatest thing under threat in our country right now. … I also am hopefully about to start a new series on URTV. I want to do a variety show called The Mad Monk of Montford.
What is the role of your hand puppet, Charlie?
Charlie’s role is—as I told City Council—to bring it to a level that they can understand. They’re not listening to me; maybe they’ll listen to a puppet.