Local elections in Chapel Hill heat up

town council

By Olivia Jenkins 

On November 7,  Chapel Hill and surrounding cities will head to the polls to vote in local elections for Town Council, School Board and the Mayoral office.

Running for re-election unopposed, Mayor Pam Hemminger is looking to continue her first term by pushing a platform of increasing high quality jobs and diversifying the tax base, as well as expanding the arts across Chapel Hill.

“I’m continuing to help improve economic development for the town and then affordable housing,” said Hemminger in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel.

Although the mayoral election has only one candidate, the Town Council elections have heated up with many candidates running for four seats in total. This upcoming election cycle, the seats of George Cianciolo, Maria Palmer, Sally Greene and Ed Harrison are up for the vote. George Cianciolo and Sally Greene have decided not to run for re-election leaving the potential for at least two new Councillors.

Council Members Maria Palmer and Ed Harrison, however, have decided to seek another term. Palmer’s platform includes defending social, racial and economic justice and advocating for workers fighting for affordable housing and protecting the environment.

“I want to continue advocating for those individuals who are often overlooked, such as working class families and members of our immigrant communities, and to make Chapel Hill better than it has ever been,” Palmer said in an interview with The Herald Sun.

Ed Harrison is also looking to have another term on the Council, a position he has held, on and off since 2001. Looking to complete long-term projects he helped start, Harrison’s involvement in Chapel Hill’s development.

In addition, five new candidates are running for a seat on the Council. Hongbin Gu, a former principal and chair of the Chinese School at Chapel Hill, is one of the candidates looking to bring her fresh ideas to the Council. According to her website, Gu is concerned with high housing costs and the new luxury apartment complexes that continue to grow on Franklin Street.

One candidate, Allen Buansi, is an alumnus of East Chapel Hill and Phillips Middle. Buansi got his political start at East when he spoke to the School Board about their proposal to remove French as an elective. One of his main goals is increasing affordable housing in Chapel Hill by working with local organization such as Empowerment Inc. and CASA.

“We need to start thinking about properties we currently have and converting those for use especially those for affordable rental units,” said Buansi.

Buansi is looking to bring his past as a civil rights lawyer to Chapel Hill Town Council by increasing transparency within the community.

“Locally I just want to make sure that decisions we are making involving the public to the greatest extent that we can,” stated Buansi.

Looking to increase youth engagement in local politics around Chapel Hill, Buansi encourages students at East and across Chapel Hill to reach out to local politicians such as himself in order to get more involved.  

Rachael Shaevitz, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is hoping to make Chapel Hill more affordable by working with community groups, advocating for diversity and inclusion, supporting local businesses, and holding Chapel Hill’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Accords.

Chapel Hill native, Karen Stegman is looking to stay true to Chapel Hill’s roots as a progressive and welcoming city. Her platform includes more comprehensive transportation and land use as well as increasing access to affordable housing. Mrs. Stegman also looks to increase Chapel Hill’s strong ties with UNC in order to strengthen the community and increase student participation.

Carl Schuler, a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce is looking to move forward with Chapel Hill 2020, a comprehensive plan passed by the Town Council in 2012 to make Chapel Hill more accessible, affordable and sustainable.

Overall it seems like most of the candidates are concerned with affordable housing, increasing Chapel Hill’s sustainability and ensuring racial, economic and social justice. As the competition is plentiful, it seems that these important issues could shape the race.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education also has three seats up for election. Incumbents James Barrett and Joal Broun are both running for re-election. Barrett became a board member in 2011 while Broun has been a member since 2016. Calvin Deutschbein, Amy Fowler, and Mary Ann Wolf are the newcomers looking for a seat of the board. The main issues for the candidates are the achievement gap in schools for minority groups and the provision of wider technology access.

Local elections traditionally have low voter turnout; for example in 2015 the voter turnout for municipal elections according to the Orange County Elections Board was 16.77 percent in Chapel Hill. Compared to the presidential election of 2016 voter turnout with 71.13 percent, it would indicate that voters believe local elections to be unimportant. However the Mayoral, the Town Council and School Board decisions can be just as impactful as a presidential election. For many students at East Chapel Hill, this election will be the first time casting their vote and actively shaping Chapel Hill’s future.

Photo courtesy of Our Town Chapel Hill

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