Supporters erupted. His mother burst into tears. His sister shouted. Mark Kleinschmidt just smiled contently, arms crossed but giving the kind of ear-to-ear grin you could feel across the room, satisfaction and disbelief merging together on his face. The campaign had just received word that rival Matt Czajkowski had made his concession speech at the Franklin Hotel.
The progressive bloc had won. Theyd just escaped a new, moderate business-centered group gaining traction and council seats. Not so fast.
Word came back that one precinct, Patterson, was yet to report. Kleinschmidt was up a scant 168 votes. The jubilation turned to shocked concern. It was too close to call.
I dont want a Dewey defeats Truman headline, Kleinschmidt warned reporters at his R&R Grill party. The pack of local politicos returned to the laptop, clicking refresh again and again.
Moments later, the candidates ever-buzzing cell phone went off once more. It was Mayor Kevin Foy calling to congratulate him.
Kleinschmidt cautioned him, but thanked him for his support. Then the results flashed on the TV screens. It was final Kleinschmidt had won.
Oh, thats it. We won it, he said calmly to Foy. The crowd, already snakebitten, didnt know what to do for a moment. Then it erupted again.
Theres a lot of people with cameras here, and Im going to talk to them, Kleinschmidt told his sudden predecessor.
The swarm of reporters surged forward, someone handed the new mayor a microphone. With the other Triangle races not as contested, media came to Chapel Hill in search of a story. Lights flashed.
Kleinschmidts back looked like a Christmas tree with microphones from four different TV stations hooked up to him, wires interwoven.
How does this affect my silhoutte, he asked jokingly. Thats the issue that the gay mayor is concerned about.
It was his first chance to breathe. The first time he could make light of what had been a heated race that drew closer than most had anticipated as the campaign wore on. Hed done it. The boy who moved from place to place during his youth and who dreamed of attending UNC since he was 9 years old not only had a home, he had the support needed to lead it.
He gave an eloquent and pointed speech. Realizing the close margin, he thanked everyone in the room for making the result reality. The work of any one one person is significant, he told them. Understanding that hed still have to work with Czajkowski, he thanked him for a competitive race and for serving in a way no other council member could.
Also clear was that the race brought to the surface an underlying split in philosophy in town politics, Czajkowski supporters being far more in number than most had realized. Kleinschmidt made clear his intentions to mend the wounds.
A cake was rolled out, drinks flowed. Buoying the mood were the council results. Laurin Easthom and Ed Harrison kept their seats. Newcomers Penny Rich, a voter-owned candidate, and Gene Pease also were victorious. Rich, Easthom and Harrison all were at Kleinschmidts party, posing for pictures and thanking supporters.
I waded through a veritable whos who of local politics (at one point there were enough county commissioners there to hold a meeting), all coming to offer their congratulations. Also there was competitor Augustus Cho, who came to shake Kleinschmidts hand. What follows is a list of who I talked to and what I gleaned:
Michelle Kleinschmidt Hoover, Marks twin sister and campaign treasurer:
This marked her third successful campaign having worked on Marks initial run for council in 2001 and on Cam Hills victorious effort in 2003 for that same office. She, like her twin, was exuding happiness and relief.
Its amazing. Im so proud of him. Im glad hes doing the political thing, she said, noting that she could hardly bear the supsense. She couldnt even eat until the results were in.
He has spent so much time and hard work in this campaign. Its been day and night for him.
Penny Rich, the leading vote-getter in the council race, and along with Kleinschimdt, the only voter-owned elections candidate
Rich said she was disappointed when the Public Policy Polling survey released Monday showed her in sixth, but she knew she had more support than that.
It didnt seem right, she said. I thought it was a little off.
It sure was. Rich not only won, she was the only candidate to earn more than 4,000 votes. After finishing in sixth in 2007, the second time worked for Rich.
She was quick to credit the voter owned elections pilot program, having said before that she felt she needed to win to validate it.
It really worked. It got everyone involved because of those $5 and $10 checks. Now its time to get down to business.
Rich, a personal chef, had been watching the returns as home, cooking a pot of chili to calm her nerves.
Mayor Kevin Foy
Foy endorsed Kleinschmidt and the old colleagues shared an embrace when he arrived.
I couldnt be happier for him. Hes going to make an excellent mayor, he said.
Hes in a perfect position to change things and also keep things moving in the right direction.
Foy said the success of Kleinschimdt and Rich shows that the voter-owned process worked and that he hopes future candidates will examine this election as a case study.
Penny just swamped her opponents, he said.
With the Dec. 7 inauguration now drawing near, Foy can start charting his next course. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward even greeted him by saying, Hey, lame duck.
Marge Kleinschmidt, Marks mother
Drained from the night but bubbling with joy, Kleinschmidt couldnt hide how proud she was of her son.
I just cant stand it, she said.
We talked about Marks journey to Chapel Hill, which she said started at age 9.
He said he wanted to go to UNC, but he worried what wed do if he didnt get a scholarship, she said. I said, If you want to go to UNC, Ill scrub toilets to get you there.
He got there via scholarship, and hes really arrived now.
Hes been a part of Chapel Hill ever since, she said. Hes a wonderful person, and Im not just saying that because Im his mom.
Tom Jensen, communications director of Public Policy Polling
Short of Richs victory and the fact that Gene Pease and Laurin Easthom finished 4th and 3rd instead of 3rd and 4th, respectively, Jensens poll was spot on. It was the first such poll conducted in Chapel Hill, and he was worried that the small sample size might hinder its accuracy. In the end, it all worked out.
All the things we would have assumed to be true we now have data showing they are true, he said, noting that Foy supporters voted for Kleinschimdt and detractors went to Czajkowski.
The main takeaway, though, is that given the final results, Kleinschmidt now needs to work to unite a divided community, Jensen said.
We really are a 50-50 community on whether things are good or not right now, he said.
Thats the charge for tomorrow. As for Election Day, all seemed right at R&R Grill.
Quickie results for Orange County (there are five precincts in Durham County that vote in Chapel Hill races, but their results arent final)
Chapel Hill mayor:
Mark Kleinschmidt 4,006 votes (49.49 percent)
Matt Czajkowski 3,766 votes (46.53 percent)
Augustus Cho 217 votes (2.68 percent)
Kevin Wolff 94 votes (1.16 percent)
Chapel Hill Town Council (top four win):
Penny Rich 4,102 votes (15.57 percent)
Ed Harrison 3,874 votes (14.70 percent)
Laurin Easthom 3,866 votes (14.67 percent)
Gene Pease 3.553 votes (13.48 percent)
Matt Pohlman 3,346 votes (12.70 percent)
Jim Merritt 3,214 votes (12.20 percent)
Jon Dehart 2,827 votes (10.73 percent)
Will Raymond 1,462 votes (5.55 percent)
Mark Chilton 1.658 votes (72.06 percent)
Brian Voyce 450 votes (19.56 percent)
Amanda Ashley 171 votes (7.43 percent)
Carrboro Board of Alderman (top three win)
Jaquelyn Gist 1,507 votes (24.84 percent)
Sammy Slade 1,461 votes (24.09 percent)
Randee Haven-ODonnell 1,451 votes (23.92 percent)
Sharon Cook 903 votes (14.89 percent)
Tim Peck 697 votes (11.49 percent)
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education (top three win)
Shell Brownstein 6,861 votes (27.35 percent)
Greg McElveen 4,351 votes (17.34 percent)
Joe Green 4,097 votes (16.33 percent)
MaryAnne Gucciardi 3,731 votes (14.87 percent)
Christine Lee 3,097 votes (12.35 percent)
Susana Dancy 2,841 votes (11.32 percent)
Tom Stevens 341 votes (94.99 percent)
Hillsborough Town Commission (top two win)
Mike Gering 289 votes (42.07 percent)
Frances Dancy 236 votes (34.35 percent)
Bryant Kelly Warren Jr. 159 votes (23.14 percent)