Earlier this evening, Joe Herzenberg passed away at UNC Hospitals. Joe had been in failing health for some time.
This is a very sad moment for those of us who worked closely with Joe through his Chapel Hill political career in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Sadder still for those who remained close to him until the end.
For newcomers who did not know Joe, there was a time when he was the standout progressive leader on the Chapel Hill Town Council, a strong neighborhood advocate and civil libertarian. He was highly popular, the top vote-getter in 1991, and considered by many at the time to be a likely mayoral candidate.
As wikipedia summarizes it, "Herzenberg was narrowly defeated in a 1979 bid for the Chapel Hill Town Council, but was later appointed to the town council when council-member Gerry Cohen stepped down following a failed bid for mayor. Herzenberg lost his reelection bid in 1981, but he returned to the council in 1987 and was reelected with overwhelming support in 1991."
But Joe was best known as the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina. Next Saturday, Equality NC (of which Joe was a founder) was set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Joe's 1987 election at the Equality Conference & Gala.
Joe was also a mentor to younger political leaders, gay leaders like Mike Nelson and Mark Kleinschmidt, but also straight leaders like Mark Chilton.
Through the years, Joe always had a keen eye on local politics and freely shared his insights with those with the good sense to ask. I will remember his warmth, his sense of humor, and his friendship.