Aldermen face off in Carrboro

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday July 09, 2005

To hear Carrboro mayoral candid ates and incumbent Aldermen Mark Chilton and Alex Zaffron tell it, the election of one or the other will greatly influence the path Carrboro takes with certain key issues in the coming years.

For example, last week Chilton announced his campaign with the assertion that Carrboro's Northwest Small Area Plan needs to be rewritten. He said the plan does "not adequately protect Bolin Creek and it has attracted the most expensive sort of development." Chilton refers to a planning document that is closely identified with Zaffron, one of his signature achievements on the Board of Aldermen.

Zaffron, not showing any strong attachment to his work, agreed that it should be "updated, simplified, and strengthened."

Or, to take another case, Chilton wants "to rewrite a number of rules related to affordable housing," some of which are his opponent's handiwork.

Zaffron identifies no such rewriting but does want to "add new strategies to our toolbox" for affordable housing.

Neither of these are exactly headline grabbing disagreements.

Still, the question remains: How much will the election of Carrboro's next mayor affect these and other decisions? This point looms large given that, win or lose, both Zaffron and Chilton will remain on the board for the next two years. Each will continue to argue his positions whether as mayor or as alderman, each needing to convince his colleagues and Carrboro residents.

Consider, by contrast, the 2001 Chapel Hill contest between Lee Pavao and Kevin Foy. With both at the end of their Town Council terms, the loser would be off the council. They stood on divergent platforms and represented contending factions on the council.

It is hard to see such a dynamic in Carrboro this year. Carrboro has no voting blocks comparable to those in Chapel Hill in 2001. Other than last January's vote on the northeast annexation area in which Chilton joined Jacquelyn Gist in dissent, I cannot recall a significant vote on which Chilton and Zaffron have disagreed during the 19 months they have both served on the board.

At their announcement events, both spoke of the personal leadership qualities of a mayor and emphasized the importance of collaboration and vision.

An evaluation of the ability of these two candidates to foster a collaborative spirit may be key for voters as Election Day nears. Residents will surely be evaluating the candidates' ability to work with often-contentious factions, to foster an atmosphere of respect and inclusion and to help guide Carrboro harmoniously into the future.

Still, to the extent that the two candidates can differentiate themselves on the issues, the voters will likely respond. Even if it carries the same one vote as the six alderman seats, the mayor does occupy a bully pulpit.

Zaffron's campaign will have the advantages and disadvantages of his longer tenure as alderman.

For good or ill, he is identified with many of the decisions of the past decade.

Some of these may be problematic, like Zaffron's position on Carrboro's small-house ordinance which he correctly claims to have "invented and designed." A campaign plank describes his intention to "plagiarize" Chapel Hill's use of the ordinance "as a lever with developers."

Unstated, or perhaps unknown to him, is the fact that, as Sally Greene said recently, "we [the Town Council] all agree that the small-house option is not working."

This fall, the council is expected to follow up on a suggestion made at an April work session to eliminate this provision.

Issues like these could put Zaffron on the defensive through much of the campaign. But Zaffron showed himself to be a tough and resilient campaigner when he beat back a recall effort a decade ago.

Although lacking the baggage of a long-standing board-member, Chilton cannot yet claim many accomplishments as alderman. In fact, he may have to overcome the pigeonholing of him as an affordable housing advocate that stems from his high-profile work with Empowerment and Community Realty. I was able to dig up a 1995 Town Council re-election endorsement that praised Chilton "on issues ranging from JOCCA [Joint Orange-Chatham Community Action] funding to solid waste management to Chapel Hill's East Entranceway," but that work is largely forgotten in 2005 Carrboro.

These two incumbents face somewhat different challenges between now and Election Day. Zaffron's hurdle will be to impress voters that his ability to push through his agenda as an alderman does not indicate an inability to be open-minded and inclusive as mayor.

Chilton's first-place finish in 2003 suggests voters agreed with the endorsement that said he would "make sure development in Carrboro is walkable, green and economically just." But he may still need to convince them that he has the leadership skills to be the better mayor.



Dan, you make it sound like Alex Zaffron agreed with Mark Chilton's recommendation on the NW small area plan. But over here Alex said "Simplify and Strengthen the Small Area plan—Not ‘Completely Rework' it." It seems that he was directly contradicting Chilton's position - which is perfectly fine of course!

I think Zaffron and Chilton do have most of their political positions in common. This is really a win-win for Carrboro since they get to keep the non-Mayor as a member of the Board of Aldermen, and both have quite a lot to offer the town! Personally, I think this race is more about who brings better leadership skills to the office of Mayor. If I lived in Carrboro, I would choose Mark Chilton.

Yes we do have two good choices and I look forward to continuing to work with both Alex and Mark after the election if I am re-elected.There are differnces between them that go well beyond leadership style however.Those differences will impact Carrboro's future.Policy issues such as downtown development and it's effects on old neighborhoods and annexation are two that come to mind.That said -they are both good guys
Jacquie Gist

Okay, so what are their differences on issues like downtown development, neighborhoods, and annexation? Mark, Alex, you want to respond here?


Please don't be hurt by this, but I think you're a little biased. Here's the tally: two negative trains of thought for Chilton, seven for Zaffron.

Remember, this is the South and Carrboro is a small town.

Well, Mary, we know you're biased since you and your children figure prominently on one candidate's web site. I'm sure there are many ways to score my column depending on one's prejudices and sense of the issues. There's not necessarily anything wrong with being biased, of course.

Herald columnists are not allowed to write anything that might have even the appearance of an endorsement. My earlier column received some serious editing for that reason.

In this case, I myself asked my editor to take a particularly close look at the balance of the column since I have been friends with both Alex and Mark for many years. Naturally, you are free to disagree his (and my) assessment of the result.

Dan, as skilled a writer as you are, I just can't see anyone reading your column and when finished, not knowing who you support. Makes one wonder, just what's in an endorsement these days.

That's funny because when I read it I thought he was leaning toward Alex a little. Hence my previous comment. The fact is that no two candidates are equal, so it's impossible to write about them in the exact same way and still be true to the facts. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

Anyway, let's talk about the news and not the messenger....

Well, I didn't see it.

Going back, I can see both of your points, but when I first read it my thought was "Whatever." Not to offend Dan, but as a non-Carrboro resident, I was left caring LESS about the election than I did going into the article.


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