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Chapel Hill

Extraordinarily progressive town seeks wonkish citizens with a grassroots base to lead the way through an unprecedented period of growth as UNC-Chapel Hill prepares to develop the 963-acre Horace Williams tract into a high-tech campus called Carolina North. Job requires finding and implementing complex plans for affordable housing, transportation, broadening the commercial tax base, and stopping further loss of economic and racial diversity. Must be able to keep up with colleagues who are experts on every topic from soil and water quality to urban design to transportation corridors. Candidates must be willing to stand up to the university in development negotiations. Must offer vision and creativity, yet be willing to work collaboratively on a team of nine in a town that values public discourse.

It's not much of a mayor's race, but incumbent Mayor Kevin Foy, who's been mayor since 2001, is facing nominal competition from Kevin Wolff, an attorney who recently moved to the area. Wolff has attended hardly any candidate forums or events and declined to answer our questionnaire. Foy has done a good job for two terms, helping to ease strained relations with the University of North Carolina and pave the way for good communication (we hope) about the development of Carolina North. As mayor and as a member of the council, he participated in such Chapel Hill progress as developing the free-fare bus system, a Land Use Management Ordinance, the rezoning of the university's main campus, and town-gown cooperation on downtown initiatives. He has been a liaison to the public art commission and has made economic development a priority. The town and the university have different missions, he is fond of saying. We believe he will continue to represent the town well. It's an easy choice: We endorse Kevin Foy.

Town Council
In the race for Town Council, seven candidates are vying for four seats. We wholeheartedly support Mark Kleinschmidt, a true good guy in local government. An attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, Kleinschmidt has brought a keen sense of social justice and an articulate defense of what we consider to be Chapel Hill's core values: diversity, community and social justice. For instance, Kleinschmidt, who is openly gay, spoke out eloquently when the council was mobbed by a contingent of fundamentalists from Raleigh there to protest the town's stance on gay marriage. He's knowledgeable about growth, technology and local economic issues. We believe he will continue to be an advocate for responsible growth and for all the citizens of Chapel Hill.

Laurin Easthom is a neighborhood advocate who's done her homework. She has put in hours on the town's transportation board, the Horace Williams Citizens Advisory Committee and the Orange County Adult Care Home Committee. She's active in the local Sierra Club, the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth, the Coalition of Neighbors Near Campus and the Friends of Bolin Creek, and has fought to preserve the historic West House on the UNC campus. These all demonstrate a strong base of knowledge and support that will help protect neighborhoods and grapple with the plans for Carolina North. Easthom has a master's degree in education and is a doctor of oral surgery. She has thought through many of the complex issues and we believe she will work hard. She gets our endorsement.

Bill Thorpe was one of several African-American community leaders who pushed for the renaming of Airport Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard following an unnecessarily protracted debate. Thorpe has the support of many in the minority community, and if he wins, he will be the only black representative on the council. He says affordable housing is the No. 1 issue he hopes to tackle, and he aims to preserve the diversity that makes Chapel Hill great, but which has been hurt by a high cost of living and low pay for town and university workers, many of whom can no longer afford to live there. When Thorpe was on the council for two terms in the 1980s, he was known as a good listener and representative of underserved people; he also earned a reputation as pro-growth. But he has pointed out that he cast a vote against the original plan for the Dean Dome back in 1980 as evidence that he is not afraid to stand up to the university and protect neighborhoods. A small controversy recently erupted over this claim when a neighborhood advocate pointed out that Thorpe voted with the 8-1 majority for the Dean Dome; but that vote was taken after two rounds of revision to the initial plan addressed noise and traffic issues. That makes the vote proof that Thorpe is willing to negotiate with the university--something council will spend a lot of time doing this term.

Not everybody loves Will Raymond, a vocal activist who first caught the council's attention with repeated complaints about a streetlight next to his house. His opposition to the town's red-light camera program put him head-to-head with outgoing council member Dorothy Verkerk and with executives from the Texas-based company that was fighting to keep its contract. By collecting data from the town engineer and doing his own models, he convinced the majority of council that the program was bunk, and it was voted out. He hopes to apply the same data-based analysis to the town's budget and technology issues. In his tenure on the town's technology board, he has proposed excellent ideas for a town-wide wireless Internet initiative focused on low-income neighborhoods. Raymond has vision, creativity and grassroots support, and we believe he will serve the town well, especially if he can maintain the positive posture he has shown on the campaign and can make alliances and work with his colleagues.

We have chosen not to support incumbent Ed Harrison for a second term. With experience as chair of the soil and water conservation board and tenure on the state Sierra Club board, Harrison promised strong leadership on environmental issues when elected in 2001. But, with some exceptions, that has not been borne out. Harrison's voting record has demonstrated an aversion to political risk. It shouldn't be a surprise that the local Sierra Club declined to endorse him for another term. He also did not stand up in support for the MLK Boulevard proposal at the outset, and he voted for the panhandling ordinance, a slap in the face to civil rights that hasn't made Chapel Hill any safer.

For many, his most memorable vote came in 2003 when he supported a UNC chiller plant and parking deck development. Explaining his vote, he said he was going against his own conscience because "a gun is being held over our head." He says now this shows his willingness to compromise. We think it's no way to make decisions. We recognize that in losing him, the town would lose an extremely hard worker, an advocate for bicycle and pedestrian safety, and an expert on transit and environmental issues. But the coming negotiations over Carolina North, as well as Chapel Hill's myriad other challenges, require fortitude as well as expertise.

Challenger Jason Baker, an undergraduate at UNC, is the most serious student candidate to run for council since 1991, and he has put on a good campaign. He has been dedicated and active in campus politics and in the Democratic Party, but he's still forming an understanding of town issues. We hope he will stay involved in local government in order to gain the experience that would make him a stronger candidate in the future.

Challenger Robin Cutson's campaign has been marked mostly by disgruntlement, and she has not demonstrated a necessary grasp of complex issues. While she seems to be tapping a sentiment in the town that is frustrated with high property taxes and stringent regulation of commercial development, her dislike of public transportation and her philosophy that new urbanism is a ploy by the real estate industry are out of touch with the town's core progressive values, not to mention vast progress made by council in recent years.

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