Chapel Hill: Familiar faces—and a new voice | Our Endorsements | Indy Week
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Part of running for office as a challenger is pointing out where the incumbent has erred, what he or she could do better and how you, as the challenger, can achieve those important gains.

Chapel Hill: Familiar faces—and a new voice 

Part of running for office as a challenger is pointing out where the incumbent has erred, what he or she could do better and how you, as the challenger, can achieve those important gains. In the mayoral and Town Council campaigns, Franklin Street, affordable housing and the development process have been highlighted as key issues. Can the town make improvements? Of course, and we're glad candidates are identifying them. But to suggest that the way of doing business in Chapel Hill is broken is quite a leap, considering the town was named America's Most Livable City by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and as one of the 10 best places to start a business by Entrepreneur magazine.

To keep Chapel Hill on its successful path, we support incumbents Laurin Easthom, Ed Harrison and Jim Merritt for Town Council. Penny Rich gets our support to be the group's new voice. We back Mark Kleinschmidt for mayor.

Mayor

When Kevin Foy announced he wouldn't run for a fifth term, he opened the door for what has been the most contested, and sadly, sometimes the ugliest, race for Chapel Hill's top job since he took office. The slate of candidates includes Kleinschmidt, an eight-year veteran of the Town Council, a death penalty lawyer and one of five elected openly gay politicians in the state; Matt Czajkowski, who's been on the council for two years and has been the lone dissenter on many votes; Augustus Cho, who's served on town boards and was an unsuccessful 2008 candidate in the Republican primary for U.S. Congress; and Kevin Wolff, a three-time mayoral candidate.

It's clear that Kleinschmidt is the sensible choice because of his track record of bringing together diverse interests, protecting the environment and creating economic opportunity. Kleinschmidt has a history of thinking through the issues and listening to residents. With Foy leaving, Kleinschmidt provides the best option to continue Chapel Hill's success. He is a proven leader who first served our community as speaker of UNC's Student Congress and has been an asset to Chapel Hill since. His experience during the last eight years working on Carolina North and a host of other issues with state and regional leaders is too vital to let go.

The other candidates did not respond to our questionnaire, but we will give them the benefit of review anyway.

Czajkowski, the only other candidate who has been elected to any office, is the best of the rest, but that's not saying much. His divisive actions and political posturing handicap his ability to lead the Town Council. It's fine to disagree, and we encourage ripe discussion that yields more full and well-developed outcomes, but Czajkowski's manner of highlighting differences has alienated his colleagues.

Even if you agree with his agenda, it's difficult to envision him accomplishing it, given the bridges he's burned. Also, though he has served on the council for two years, he's still a relative newcomer to local politics, and he does not have the benefit of Kleinschmidt's institutional knowledge.

Augustus Cho's focus on going green is admirable, and his experience on the transportation board is a plus. However, his ideas on improving the town are vague, and we question whether he could deliver on his plans if elected.

It gave us pause when he stated he would be "the No. 1 enemy of the ACLU." We don't think he has the temperament to serve as an effective mayor.

Wolff, meanwhile, has run a nasty and hypocritical campaign. He has openly attacked Czajkowski, buying a "Keep Matt where he's at" ad in The Chapel Hill News. When Czajkowski said it took him a while to get used to Town Council business, Wolff said he was irresponsible for running. Yet Wolff ran in 2005 after moving to town only four months earlier. He also has challenged Cho's claim of bringing diversity to town hall and said he would put his diverse background against anyone's. It seems a petty point to contest. This is not leadership. This is not consensus building. What he promises is, ironically, invalidated by the way in which he does it. Also troubling is that Wolff has dodged all questions about his controversial phone poll—which he wouldn't even acknowledge conducting—yet it is documented in his campaign finance reports. We question how open and accessible he'd be as mayor, given his record and behavior.

Town Council

Change: It seems the buzzword in politics of late. After Barack Obama invoked it in his campaign, every newcomer seems to use it as a talisman.

Candidate Jon DeHart did as much at a recent forum, saying, "In 2008 we were ready for a change in Washington. In 2009 thinking citizens are ready for a change in local government." Apples and oranges? We think so. George Bush isn't on Town Council. If he were, we'd be advocating for change. Instead we have a group that's been integral to the quality of life enjoyed in town, and it'd be foolish to change for change's sake. So we're sticking with the incumbents.

Laurin Easthom was the top vote-getter in 2005, and she has done nothing to dissuade us from supporting her since. She is a strong advocate for neighborhoods, and her well-reasoned, experienced approach is an asset.

Ed Harrison also gets our support. With Foy not running and Bill Strom gone AWOL, Harrison is the council's only remaining transportation expert. Regional rail is gaining steam, and we should not lose Harrison at such an important time. Although he may not be the best public speaker, Harrison's positions are the result of long hours of research and careful attention. He also deserves praise for not losing sight of his constituency and taking care to keep his supporters informed.

Jim Merritt was appointed to the council last year after Bill Thorpe died. Since then, Merritt has spent most of his time listening. One can argue that, overall, others may be better qualified to serve, but choosing whom to elect is, in effect, selecting which candidate can best add to the existing council. How he or she fits in matters. Merritt's perspective as a native growing up in segregated Chapel Hill schools gives the council a viewpoint and knowledge of the community it would otherwise desperately lack.

Penny Rich gets our endorsement for the nonincumbent seat vacated by Kleinschmidt. She is the only candidate to accept and qualify for voter-owned funds, and she deserves encouragement for taking that bold step. Her early community conversations and her online survey, in which she asked residents to identify issues important to them, demonstrate she is interested in representing her constituents. Rich has become a stronger candidate as her campaign has progressed. We wholeheartedly support her candidacy.

Chapel Hill is fortunate to have the above four running, but we also are impressed by some of the other candidates.

Will Raymond, whether elected or not, is and will continue to be an important voice in town. He takes on hard issues, listening to residents and following issues from conception to reality. He is a student of local politics who has shown he can learn and adapt. The only reasons he did not receive our endorsement are that we question his viability, given that he has run twice before, and that we believe he can continue to serve the community in his role as the town's gadfly.

Gene Pease also has the experience needed to serve effectively. He got involved when UNC attempted to put a chiller plant near his neighborhood. He has served on OWASA, the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation and the Horace Williams Citizens Advisory Committee. He is from the business-background camp, so if you believe we need business leaders on the council, Pease is your candidate.

We can't support DeHart or Matt Pohlman, newcomers who have criticized the current permit approval process and saying it needs to be streamlined, without offering specifics. Each is part of a new group of politicians buoyed by Czajkowski's 2007 victory. The other candidates simply provide more knowledge.

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