John Block/Getty
Alex Heigl
October 21, 2015 01:25 PM

Santa Claus is officially a sitting member on the North Pole’s city council – no, really!

The former North Pole Chamber of Commerce President, whose legal name is really Santa Claus, was elected to the council in North Pole, Alaska, earlier this month.

The increased visibility for Claus, whose birth name was Thomas O’Connor, welcomes a closer look at a man many people assumed was simply a publicity-seeking eccentric.

Claus was born in Washington, D.C., though he grew up in Manhattan. He spent time in various wings of the city’s public sector – including, at one point, the NYPD – and his exposure to the various injustices of American life moved him to join the Celtic Anglican order Anam Cara in the early 2000s.

Claus’s time spent working with children triggered his lifelong advocacy for youth, as well as some of his more left-leaning policies, like his push to keep medical marijuana dispensaries open in the North Pole. It’s also prompted his more spiritual than material approach to Christmas: Whenever children start rattling off their list of Christmas wishes, Claus stops them.

“I’ll say, ‘Whoa, wait a second,’ ” Claus, 68, told The Washington Post. “Before you tell me what you want I want to know what you’re going to give to someone else.”

After Claus moved to the Pole in 2013, he ascended to the local chamber of commerce, where he lobbied for Alaska to pass Erin’s Law, which provides funds to train teachers to better spot signs of child abuse. And while he’s also interested in jobs, he tells PEOPLE – the local oil refinery, which employed most of the area’s workers, shut down last year – he also has his sights set on less pragmatic concerns.

“Replying as a North Pole resident, and not in my official capacity as a new Council member, I would expect that our Council primarily will be addressing our City budget, planning for responsible growth, and continuing to embrace the Christmas Spirit that lives year ’round throughout our wonderful community of North Pole.”

Now that’s a platform we can get behind.

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