Municipal Election Filing Nears: Potential Candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council

In a little over a month, on July 5, candidate filing will open at the Orange County Board of Elections for municipal elections and the Chapel Hill/Carrboro School Board. There hasn't been much media attention yet to potential candidates for any of these offices, but with Gary Kahn announcing today his intention to run for Chapel Hill Town Council, it's certainly about that time when election speculation begins.

With many discussions about the future of Chapel Hill -- particularly the future of economic development -- occurring simultaneously right now, who runs and who wins in November could have a significant impact on shaping the direction in which Chapel Hill grows. As such, let's take a look at who we might expect to see emerge as candidates for Town Council as the filing period nears.

The Incumbents

Laurin Easthom - As she announced in January, Laurin Easthom will not be seeking re-election this year after two terms on Council. Her retirement means that at least one new face will be joining the dais in December.

Gene Pease - Pease has made no announcement as to whether or not he intends to seek a second term on Council, but as the filing period nears, there's only so much longer he can wait before announcing his intentions. 

Ed Harrison - Harrison has served on Council since 2001 after serving for 11 years on the Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. Harrison has also not made his intentions clear, but if his lengthy record of public service is any indication, he may not be ready to call it quits, particularly given that Harrison is the only councilmember who lives in the Durham County portion of Chapel Hill without anyone to directly continue his advocacy for this portion of town.

Sally Greene - Greene, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Penny Rich's term, declined to seek re-election in 2011, but is back and has intentions to stay, it would seem. She has not made any public announcements, but she didn't pledge to act as a "caretaker" for her current seat when she applied to fill the vacancy. Coupled with her active campaign committee with $1,402.19 cash on hand (PDF) as of January, all signs point to Greene running in the fall. (UPDATE: In a tweet responding to this post, Greene confirmed that she will be seeking re-election this year.)

The Potential Challengers

As mentioned above, there is already one challenger who has announced his intention to run for Town Council this year:

Gary Kahn - Kahn, a retail associate, has lived in Chapel Hill for three years, and is a resident of Southern Village. He applied for the seat vacated by Penny Rich earlier this year. has more information about his announcement to run here.

In addition to Kahn, perhaps the best place to look for potential challengers interested in running in the fall is the applicant pool of those who applied to fill the vacancy left by Penny Rich when she was elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners last November. OP editor Erin Crouse profiled the 11 applicants for the seat earlier this year. Among those who sought the appointment, there are four whose community involvement and public comments indicate that they may run:

Maria Palmer - Palmer is a long-time community activist, former member of State Board of Education (1998-2005), and was co-chair of Chapel Hill 2020’s Getting Around theme group. At the time of the appointment process for Rich's seat, Palmer expressed interest in running for Council this year regardless of whether she was chosen for the appointment or not, but has not publicly commented on her intentions since the appointment process.

Amy Ryan - Ryan, a Planning Board member with additional experience on the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee, Community Design Commission, and Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force, has a lengthy record of community involvement in town. She has not made any public announcements as of yet, though. It is also worth noting that Ryan received one vote to fill the vacancy earlier this year -- the only candidate other than Sally Greene to receive any votes from councilmembers in the appointment process.

Loren Hintz - Hintz, a high school teacher, is a longtime community member who has been particularly active in environmental advocacy. He currently serves on the Orange County Commission on the Environment. Hintz wrote on OP at the time of the appointment process that he has not run for office in the past due to his family commitments, but that he would be ready to devote himself to Council, implying that his may be another name to watch in the coming weeks.

Carl Schuler - Schuler, who ran for Council in 2011, is a member of the Board of Adjustment and is past president of the Vineyard Square Homeowner’s Association. He has not made any public announcements, but his decision to apply for Rich's seat may indicate an interest in running again.

There are also two additional names absent from the above list who may also be worth watching as filing nears:

George Cianciolo - Cianciolo, who served as co-chair of Chapel Hill 2020, withdrew his name from consideration for the vacant Council seat after learning that Sally Greene would be applying to fill it. He has not announced his intentions, but he remains someone to watch.

Jon DeHart - DeHart, who ran for Council in 2009 and 2011, considered applying for the vacant Council seat earlier this year, but ultimately declined. He has not made any public announcements about mounting a third run, but considering his past runs and community involvement, he may be another name to follow as filing nears.

There are, of course, others who are not listed above that we may see file for Town Council in July. At this stage, we're only at speculation, but given the decisions Council has to make in the next few years about the trajectory of the town, considering who will be serving come December to make these decisions is an important process to begin.

Who else do you think will enter the race? Who do you hope will declare? And, perhaps most importantly, what do you want to see from a candidate and potential councilmember?



From the WCHL story on his annoucement, “I have no real qualified background.”

In a tweet responding to this post, Sally Greene confirmed: "You're right. I'm in."I've updated this post to reflect her confirmation. 

As my former colleague and good buddy and long time Chapel Hill politician and council member Bill Thorpe often said:   "we did NOT create Chapel Hill town council to have district representation for a reason.   The council members represent ALL of the town, whether they be from Northside or Southern Village or ANY part of this town.   The council members you elect represent EVERYONE."     He applied this philosophy to more than just geographics! I miss him every time I sit for a meeting on this council.  Apparently reference was made to Southern village residents "having no real representation on council" by a candidate.   

To repeat my friend Laurin's quotation of Bill Thorpe again, "The council members you elect represent EVERYONE."  Council members can, and do, advocate for all parts of town and on a wide range of issues.  Ed Harrison

Another person who applied for Penny's seat is Jennifer Marsh. She's an Chapel Hill native who worked for the NC NAACP and now works with Mark Dorosin at the UNC Center for Civil Rights. She sounded pretty interested in running this fall, but I haven't spoken to her recently.

Coming from Evanston Illinois -a town roughly the size and composition of Chapel Hill - that's undergoing (and managing) rapid growth - District representation rocks!  It's too bad we don't have it - of course that would mean control shifts from politicians to the citizens. As the town grows and assuming it diversifies, it will become more difficult for any councilmember to assert with authority that he/she effectively represents everybody.  With districting, Evanston has  better accountability and communities had more direct control over who represented them.   The entire council still made decisions, but there was someone on the council specificially advocating for every community- which he/she understood intimately and had a personal vested interest in.  Evanston council resentatives held regular town hall meetings with their constituents - and every community - not just a select vocal few - spoke for their interests -often with coaching and leadership from their representative.  I believe district representation would be the fast end to late night council meetings - and return control of the town (and the county) to its citizens.   Too bad its not an election issueBonnie Hauser

The most democratic approach is to have cumulative voting or  instant-run-off (which saves $ and aggravation on close races that would normally require another election). are elegant systems which allow voters to ally in "virtual districts" rather than just within arbitrarily drawn districts. For example, let's say a "pay-as-you-throw" solid waste plan is a major city issue, then those who support the "pay-as-you-throw" candidate could vote for that person irregardless of where their house is actually located. The end result is that the most representative candidates win and no-one's vote is wasted.  

There are all sort of arguments to be made about what types of diversity the town council might be more in need of: age, race/ethnicity, income, renter/homeowner status, etc. An alternative voting system is a much more effective way at encouraging this kind of diversity than districts. Geographic dispersion comes pretty low down the list, especially given that we've had a pretty good mix of the different sides of town represented through the years without any help. And as we've all learned in North Carolina, voting districts are incredibly eay to abuse.I also question whether the value of districts in a place as small as Chapel Hill outweighs the negative impact of having council members who are more accountable (at least electorally) to their own neighbors than to the entire town. Personally, I want elected officials who are interested in representing our collective interests, and who are willing to make tough political decisions that might have a greater benefit to everyone even if they are unpopular with their neighbors.I've lived at five different addresses in Chapel Hill since I first moved here a little over a decade ago. Choosing where I live has always been more a function of affordability and transit access than a desire to live on a particular side of town. I choose to live here because of the culture, the services, and the progressive attitudes.  And I want candidates who look out for and protect those values, not just my property and the things adjacent to it. Many of the things frequently championed as goals of neighborhood protection, like preserving our urban tree canopy, safety, peace and quiet, etc., are ideals we should seek to achieve for every resident regardless of where they live.Admittedly, a small part of me would be thrilled to see the results if districts are drawn in a way to encompass campus and the larger apartment complexes that we suddenly have two or three majority-student districts. But it's not worth the cost and the potential for abuse.

True, we don't have formal election districts, nor should we in my opinion.However council members know where each other lives and works and which areas of town they are most familiar with.  For an obsolete example, I, as a resident of Coolidge Street just off South Columbia, know a lot about that street and UNC's growth onto it.  However I would never lead a discussion on the improvements to Weaver Dairy Road, as I don't experience it every day.

According the WCHL, Gene Pease is not going to run for reelection.I wonder if this will have any affect the advisory board restructuring process, since two of the three members of that committee (Pease, Easthom, and Czajkowski) will be leaving the Council before the process is complete.

I liked Travis's analysis.It will be interesting to see how many on the list run.  I will be a candidate for Town Council this year. I plan on filing this month toward the end of the filing period. Enjoy the summer. Fall will be interesting.Loren Hintz

Congratulations and good luck, Loren! I think it will be a fun campaign season. 

I look forward to a trip to Hillsborough tomorrow to file for Chapel Hill Town Council.  Sally Greene


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