Fred Black Threatens the Status Quo at The Herald; Waldorf Makes Her Endorsements

Last Sunday in the Chapel Hill Herald's letters column, the Community Action Network's Fred Black took issue with a column by Dan Coleman, which took issue with the Community Action Network. Surprise, surprise. The roots of the animus between CAN and Coleman (and, it should be said, the Sierra Club the Greens, and most of the town's New Left) are long, and not worth describing here. Let's just say they have a difference of opinion.

In Black's letter he went on to impugn Coleman's ethics as a columnist this way:

"Mr. Coleman alleges that CAN has not clarified its policy interests and endorsement procedures; we have. What hasn't been clarified is Mr. Coleman's tap dancing on the line of endorsing candidates in his columns, his active endeavors in support of "his" candidates, and his ethical standards as a columnist. He needs to clearly disclose these things to the readers of The Chapel Hill Herald."

Perhaps Dan should "disclose these things," whatever they are, in the service of his credibility as a journalist; readers are generally willing to accept columnists who boldly state their political interests and activities, and are generally irked by columnists who play coy with the same. I'm sure that it will come as no surprise to anyone that Dan Coleman wouldn't collapse in a fit of outrage if Bill Strom was re-elected and Sally Greene took a seat on the Council. If this weren't such a weird town, perhaps columnists would quit "tap dancing," as Mr. Black put it, and disclose such things.

But this is a weird town with a weird local press culture. Columnists from the Chapel Hill Herald get fired when they are revealed to be engaged in politics. Remember Mark Marcopolos? Cam Hill? To be involved directly in the politics and governance of our town is to disqualify yourself from writing columns for the Chapel Hill Herald. This is the way the newspaper believes it upholds the tradition of press impartiality, something that's alleged to serve the greater good of its readers: by hiring columnists entirely un-engaged with the public business of our community, or columnists who are willing to make those engagements a little secret. Ignoramuses or tapdancers, take your pick.

All this brings me to the case of Rosemary Waldorf, former mayor, a member of the CAN Board of Directors, and another new Chapel Hill Herald columnist. While Mr. Black was fulminating about Dan Coleman's ethics as a journalist and making very vague allusions to Coleman's political activities, his pal Ms. Waldorf was busy helping to compose a political endorsement letter on behalf of herself, Top of the Hill's Scott Maitland, Chapel Hill Tire's Marc Pons, and Julian's Missy Julian Fox. It's dated October 24th, printed on Top of the Hill stationery and addressed to "Chapel Hill Business Leader."

(I assume they used the Chamber of Commerce membership list, which of course does not mean that the Chamber engages in local politics. As we all know, the Chamber is a completely apolitical organization, as Director Aaron Nelson has told me on more than one occasion. If the letter sounds like Chamber of Commerce boilerplate, that can only be a coincidence.)

It reads as follows:

"As business and community leaders we share a common vision for the future of Chapel Hill. Together we are actively working to realize that vision by growing our economy, building a strong downtown and fostering a sustainable community for our generation and for our children.

"There are many candidates seeking your support and your vote for Chapel Hill Town Council. We have met with the candidates, talked to them about the issues, read their materials and gathered information from public forums.

"Diane [sic] Bachman, Terri Tyson, and Jim Ward share our vision and commitment to the future of Chapel Hill. Diane [sic] Bachman, Terri Tyson and Jim Ward have each demonstrated leadership, commitment to service, willingness to listen to all voices and an ability to build consensus on tough community issues.

"We strongly encourage you to vote for Dianne Bachman, Terri Tyson and Jim Ward for Chapel Hill Town Council on November 4 and to ask your neighbors, friends and co-worksers to support them.

"Your vote counts. Working together we can make a difference.

"Thank you in advance for your support."

The letter is signed by Maitland, Pons, Fox, and Waldorf (who lists herself as representing the firm "Rosemary Waldorf Public Relations").

Taking my cue from Fred Black, it seems clear from this letter that Rosemary Waldorf, columnist, has a list of "her" candidates. She's met with them, talked with them about the issues, read their materials, and gathered information about them from public forums. She went to the trouble of composing and signing a letter sent to hundreds of local businesses, paid for by the letter writers themselves, presumably. And yet, not a peep about any of that out of Columnist Waldorf in the pages of the Herald, and certainly nothing about her support of Bachman, Tyson and Ward and the more-than-usual effort she's making to round up votes for them.

So here's the problem -- who's going to pull the trigger first about their political involvement, Waldorf or Coleman? If Fred Black wants to make dark allusions to Coleman's unnamed political activity, perhaps he ought to consider what the heck his own compadre, Rosemary Waldorf, is doing in the pages of the Herald once a week, and how many people out there are well aware of her (as yet unacknowledged) political activity. Surely she's tapdancing, no?

Let me be clear: I think both Coleman and Waldorf should be able to engage with their community in any manner they want, and that nothing they do should disqualify them as columnists. The things that should disqualify a columnist are being boring and ill-informed, things you can't say about either one of them as columnists. The fact that editors Neil Offen and Ray Gronberg at the Herald, savvy men both, are turning a blind eye to the political lives of their columnists, rather than enforcing the Marcopolos Rule, tells me that they know what's important and they're not willing to sacrifice Coleman and Waldorf in the interests of misguided policy.

Still, the fact that they have to turn a blind eye to it -- rather than insisting that their columnists come clean while assuring them that their jobs are secure -- undermines any hope of having an open, honest and vibrant political culture in this town. Having Dan Coleman and Rosemary Waldorf in the pages of the Herald once a week is a welcome change, and it's too bad that they're hobbled by the Herald's don't-ask-don't-tell policy toward the political lives of columnists.

So I suppose I should thank Fred Black, the ham-fisted, touchy and blindered media critic, for raising the issue. If all goes well, perhaps The Herald will turn to unapologetic honesty on its editorial pages, rather than draping them in the gauzy scrim of a thoroughly fraudulent "objectivity."


Total votes: 206


Thanks, Duncan. You've hit a nail on the head. Herald policy restrains columnists from endorsing candidates in their columns. But, as you imply, columnists are selected because they have a point of view. That point of view, of course, is what it's all about. That and the ability to write knowledgably and effectively about public affairs.

Short of endorsements, a columnist can comment on the campaigns and issues of the election. But even if I were to make endorsements, I would do so for candidates whose values and issue positions are in line with my own. In general, for columnists as for voters, politics drives the selection of candidates not vice versa. Thus, it is only natural as I write about campaign events and issues, that my columns would tend to reflect positively on candidates who share my own perspective and negatively on those who don't. This is not "tap-dancing" but merely the nature of writing opinion pieces.

A point of view is not something that is explicitly "disclosed" in this context. You might infer from his columns that Richard Reeves, for example, doesn't like the Bush Administration. But his columns don't begin with the disclosure "I don't like the Bush Administration." Neither do mine.

This is mainly addressed to Dan and Gregor, since this issue seems so pertinent to topics they've already raised here and in the Herald.

Quick quiz question: What CAN-endorsed candidate (the wunderkind of the "go-go growth" committee, nice characterization Dan) has received $1700 dollars in the past month for her campaign from local developers (these include D.R. Bryan - Southern Village, East West Partners - Meadowmont, and the Resolute Building Co. among others). Not to mention, said candidate has also received a sum total of $600 from the three top dogs at Franklin Street Partners, the investment firm that likely handles accounts for all these developers (does anyone know, I don't have the time or resources really to figure these things out). Anyway, you've probably guessed it, it's ol' Seabiscuit-lovin, Horse Trolley-transporting (good one, Gregor) Dianne Bachman. Hmm, after her pro-growth record on the Design Commission, is it any wonder these catalysts for growth are in love with her? Not to mention, there was another large, $100 contributor to her campaign — Bruce Runberg!!!! How's that for no conflict of interest. By the way, Dianne, what company will be building all the new parking decks and buildings for UNC once it sprawls all over the place? I can think of one particular company whose trucks and placards I see affixed to many of the current construction sites - ah yes, it's Resolute - whose owner and president both gave you the maximum allowable contribution of $200. Nah, never a conflict of interest with you. On to individuals, I remember some guy who got a good old Kevin Foy-style rogering in the last election because of his piss-poor record of approving horrendous growth and sprawl in town. Yeah, that was Lee Pavao, the same guy who got his ass handed to him has also given you $200. Pity you, Dianne, you're eloquent and deceptively vague, but for about $1.50 payment on King Street in Hillsborough, we can also see in glaring black and white where your constituency, and loyalties lay. Hop aboard your "state of the art" transportation system, Dianne, and ride that "rapid fire bus" the hell out of my town.

P.S. - to any investigative reporters: Are there any contentious projects involving East West or Bryan that are pending recommendation from the planning board and later approval from the council? Is Franklin Street Partners set to foot the bill for any of these proposals? Who has Carolina contracted, if it has yet, to build its new decks, plant, housing units, facilities, etc.? How much work is going to Resolute?

Your town? Your facts? Right!

Your point? Right!

Please explain the difference between $200 given to Cam by a supporter and $200 given to Dianne by a supporter? Are both supporters trying to buy $200 worth of "influence" or "access?" What do you get for your $200? Your implication that one candidate's $200 is tainted because the source happens to be in a business that you don't like is flawed. Makes as much sense as saying without any track record that someone lacks the integrity to vote issues in what they believe is a fair way because of whom their employer is. What about the spouse; does that same logic apply to potential pressure by the employer on the spouse of a Council member?

By your definition, all contributions are a conflict of interest and all supporters/endorsers must be after something that non contributors will not get. That makes as much sense as Bill calling for a $7500 cap as an incumbent and desiring that it apply to the challengers too. Or, the folks who run around saying, "I'm for the neighborhoods," but can't satisfa torily tell you what they will do when neighborhood interests conflict with one another. Are we not electing people who we hope will exercise good judgment based on what is best for Chapel Hill? If so, then how can your campaign position be "for the neighborhoods?" Sounds good and gets votes from folks but it just doesn't pass the test when you watch what happens when they are in office. Is this why you now don't trust Kevin?


Hello Fred,

Nice of you to join us. Try to be a little more witty please. I got your note:

"So I guess you just don't have the courage or fortitude to send someone something under your own name. Pity, but understandable, given that falsehoods, rumor, innuendo, and attack writing is what some pass off as journalism.

Fred Black"

Glad you can share the love.

There is no inherent difference between $200 given to Hill and $200 given to Bachman. But in fact, there may be a big difference.

The difference is that in Bachman's case the big dollar contributions come from development interests. Does that mean that they are "buying" influence with her? Not necessarily. It may just mean that they already believe they have influence with her or that her inclination is in their favor.

I cannot see any analogous conclusion that can be drawn from Hill's several $200 contributions.

If I gave 200$ to Cam Hill it would be in hopes that I would buy more interest and he would save more trees and preserve more neighborhoods. If I gave 200$ to some other candidate it may be for them to pave over more trees with roads for technologically advanced combustion engine mobile transporters.

So, Jay, you are saying that you are hoping that your contribution gets the person elected that you believe will best act to represent your interests. Thus, knowing how he MIGHT act once elected causes you to contribute, not necessarily a desire to use your contribution to generate future influence. I see nothing wrong with using you money to help finance the campaign of a person who appears to share your interests, you policy preferences and your values. Why then is the money received by an opponent somehow tainted when it was contributed under the same circumstances?

When I lived in Arizona, the issue was always water, and lots of money went to candidates based on their stance. Those who saw more development as a new demand on the supply of water were opposed by those who saw development as a way to get more tax dollars to buy access to more water. These battles made money interests on both sides of the issues come up with "creative" ways to directly and indirectly make contributions. Of course, each side accused the other of "buying" candidates.

But how the money was spread around never usually matched how votes turned out. Interesting example of "taking the mney and running" because in the next election incumbents had no problems finding new contributors, as well as the continued support of some of the "disappointed" previous contributors. Bottom line: contributions did not buy the votes in the future that some assumed that they would.


Hmmm. The major contributions to Cam appear to be from close friends and family. Thus, the major contributions for Dianne must be....anyone....anyone?

"Pound for pound, Bachman, your best buy in political candidates" Used with the express non-permission of the Capable Acting Noodleshop.

Let's be fair. Bruce Runberg is not trying to buy influence over Dianne Bachman. His contibution reflects the fact that he believes Dianne is already on his side. And that there is the issue. Bruce Runberg and UNC are the forces that need to be regulated by the Town Council. Should we really put the fox in charge of the hen house?

Suppose for a minute that Bruce Runberg knows Dianne to be an honest person and that he believes her allegiance will be to the Town, just as she says. Isn't the fact that she's capable, open-minded and fair enough to induce him to contribute to her campaign?

Even if you attribute sinister motives to Runberg (and most of her other contributors), UNC could hardly ask for more than the above. It's unlikely they are going to actually find a person who'll run simply to help further their expansion goals.

And just maybe, Runberg doesn't even have sinister motives, but knows and likes Dianne. I'd be concerned if he DIDN'T contribute!

I'm not suggesting sinister motives or guilt by association. Instead, I'm suggesting this group of developers, developers that stand to benfit if Dianne wins, are showing their support because they know she is already "under the influence."

In this case, mixing business with politics is certainly legal, but for a candidate battling inferences of influence peddling, this mixing doesn't help appearances, especially when Dianne doesn't specify those goals her friends have that she supports and those that she doesn't.

Obviously, these "friends" and business associates have embraced Dianne and her policies, isn't it fair to ask if she's embraced theirs?

I'm curious about another aspect of these contributions. While everyone seems to focus on how these donors will benefit from Dianne's being seated on the council, no one seems to be examining how their influence might alter Dianne's decisions on her UNC projects. Will she be more accommodating with Resolute, etc. because they showed support in her hour of need?

You may be assuming a lot! Like those who prepare the attack letters signed by "average citizens," many must really be real afraid of this lady. It seems that the assumption is that if she were on the Council, she could make such compelling arguments that four others would join with her on every vote to further the interest of UNC and developers. (I assume that the next Council will vote on more than UNC relates issues, but that seems immaterial.) You also assume that Bachman has some sort of position that allows her to let contracts or otherwise provide benefits to those working for UNC. It is amazing the power that you believe one staff architect holds. If you have evidence of corruption such that it leads to your conclusions, you ought to go to a competent authority who can take action.

As the Indy said, she is one of the most qualified non-incumbents on the ballot. But because she obviously generates tremendous fear in some, that same fear transfers to those who contributed to her campaign. Do those who depend on UNC for their livelihood need to fear candidates supported by environmental interest money? Do those people have a right to elect a council member who they feel will vote based what they believe is best for Chapel Hill, versus a candidate who opposes any and all development the legal owner of a parcel of land wants to do? Those letters seem to say they don’t have the right to elect an employee who has greater personnel protections than a tenured professor, let alone believe the employee should be on the ballot in the first place.

Yep, must be fear that she could win that causes these desperate attempts to discredit her. Now who are the other four that she could manipulate so easily?


Come on, Mr. Black ... er... "e pluribus unum." Name one single candidate for the town council who "opposes any and all development the legal owner of a parcel of land wants to do?" Give me an example of one letter to the editor that denies voters the _right_ to elect whomever they please. Setting up straw men to knock down isn't convincing rhetoric, Mr. Black. It's silly. Everyone votes for candidates "they feel will vote based on what they believe is best for Chapel Hill"; people just differ on the particulars of what they think is "best for Chapel Hill." The fact that you reduce the electoral question to an absurd opposition of an indisputable-and-malleable-and-uncontroversial position vs. a non-existent one is a sign of desperation.

I believe it's possible that Dianne Bachman could vote and act independently of the wishes of the University if she were elected to office. I believe it's _possible_. Early on I was even willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, to an extent. It's impossible to prove that you won't be co-opted by the University, because it amounts to proving a negative. But my doubt grows every time she plays coy about her opinions about past University actions in the development arena, and gives nonsensical or meaningless answers to questions about Carolina North. And so her independence _does_ come into question as a result of her evasiveness.

The question of independence is a legitimate question in this company town, when a mid- to upper-level manager of the company runs for office. My doubt about her only grows when she acts as if she doesn't understand the question, or answers it by saying, in effect, "trust me." She might make a very good Council member, but she's done a horrible job of answering this legitimate question, dodging it every step of the way. She could have done a much better job with this by simply going on the record about her hopes and desires for Carolina North and other areas of development involving the University. She's a smart woman, and so it's not too much to expect that she's formed _some_ opinions about these things, but the answers she's given on these questions have been preposterously vague. Ms. Bachman has only herself to blame when this question lingers.

No one has ever said that an employee of the university can't be trusted to run for office, contrary to Ms. Bachman's misleading attack ad on Cam Hill. (Mr. Hill has called into question the independence of a non-tenured employee, and not just any non-tenured employee, but one who has overseen projects that depend on Council approval. This is much more specific than the sweeping generalization attributed to him in Bachman's attack ad.)

No one is afraid of Dianne Bachman, but that's a clever use of empty political rhetoric; characterizing opposition as fear is a not-so-subtle way of deflecting criticism and re-casting a candidate's weaknesses as strengths. Bravo!

If you have a message for Fred Black, please send it to him. His e-mail is [email protected].

Like I said before, if there wasn't so much fear, there would not be so much effort to label her as being unable to reach independent judgments. Of course voters need the help of her opponents to tell them how bad she would be rather than how good the candidates they support would be.


e may not have noticed but there are a lot of decisions on the council with a 1 or 2 vote margin. so, yes, one vote makes a big difference.

and, yes, it is to be feared. e obviously doesn't live in one of the neighborhoods under direct threat from Bachman and her bosses.

by the way, e's philosophy would imply that any candidate for office should say anything she wants without challenge and without any accountability. hey, it worked for the president, why not Bachman?

Fred Black has assured me that he is too honorable to post anonymously. In this way, he claims the moral high ground over Ben Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers.

If and when Fred posts, he will post as Fred Black not as a coward (so he says).

I talked to Fred and asked him about the mail to "gregor samsa." He said he sent a message to [email protected].

Since the "gregor samsa" report above didn't sound like him at all, I asked if he would share what he sent. He did, and as the below shows, it's a stretch to take his words and write what "gregor samsa" wrote.

"Subject: Re: they got your number

Date: 10/30/2003 9:41:49 AM Eastern Standard Time

From: Fhblack

Reply To:

To: [email protected]

Dear "Whomever,"

I heard that you put my last message to you on Ruby's politics site rather than answering my very simple question. Fine with me, but be assured that when I want to express my personal opinions it will appear with my name. Why the need for you to hide your identity?

Fred Black"

Where does he say he is "too honorable" to do something? Coward? Where does that come from? Anybody know how to get an application for the DC School of Journalism?

As for me, I did not know that even under this administration's Patriot Act, expressing opinions could result in hanging, a real fear faced by Madison, Jay, and Hamilton. Therefore, I will continue to use this name.

There's plenty of important stuff for us to talk about instead of haggling over the supposed identities of anonymous posters. (Another reason I wish y'all would just own up to your posts.) Let's move on.


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