Mark Kleinschmidt | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Mark Kleinschmidt

Chapel Hill - Mayor and Town Council


Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark Kleinschmidt

Date of birth: 03/25/70

Home address: 105 Cardiff Pl., Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Attorney, Executive Director of The Fair Trial Initiative


Why are you running for office and what are your top priorities, if elected? Please include information on past public service, posts held, volunteer work completed and other examples of your leadership.

It is my hope that the people of Chapel Hill have been pleased with my service as Mayor and will choose to re-elect me in November. I have had an eventful first term and am looking forward to a second. My priority is the town's priority: to complete a comprehensive planning process that will guide our community over the next decade. We anticipate that our new Comprehensive Plan will be more than just a land use plan, but also include how we deliver the full scope of town services. In addition, I hope to build on our success in economic development. Chapel Hill has not been idle during the current recession, we continue to seek new ways to enhance our economic health and have made significant changes in how we promote economic growth in our community. During my next term, I hope to build upon this record and broaden our work to include our regional partners.

Aside from being the Mayor of Chapel Hill from December 2009 to present, I have held a number of leadership positions including having been elected twice to the Chapel Hill Town Council. In addition, I have served as the President of the ACLU of North Carolina and on the Board of Directors for Equality North Carolina. I have also been an active member of the Democratic Party having served as the Chairman of the Weaver Dairy Precinct, as a delegate to the county and state conventions, and as a member of the State Executive Committee. Through my role as the executive director of the Fair Trial Initiative I have been a leader in the effort to reform our criminal justice system and how the death penalty is used in North Carolina. My work at the Fair Trial Initiative has required working closely with state policy makers to craft criminal justice and death penalty reforms as well as educating the public on the effect of these reforms.

If you are not currently serving on the Town Council, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?

My greatest asset to the community is my ten years of experience on the Council and the institutional knowledge that comes with it. While long-term service can, in some instances, reflect a stale perspective, I believe I have demonstrated that I am capable of leading our community through changing times, am open to new ideas, and continue to bring a fresh approach to problem community problem solving.

In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill Town Government, and why? Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?

Creation of our economic development office. As a Councilmember, I was Chair of the Council's Economic Development Committee when we created Chapel Hill's Economic Development Office (EDO). I continue to chair the committee as Mayor. The EDO has led our town efforts toward not being merely a regulator of business, but a facilitator for doing business in Chapel Hill. As a result, a whole new business climate is beginning to grow in Chapel Hill with a goal of diversifying our tax base and securing our economic health in this new economy.

Successful navigation of the national economic crisis. We have had no tax increases, maintained our AAA credit rating and continue to provide high quality public services.

The launching of a vision for downtown that will be bringing new residents and diverse commercial activity. We have inspired new investment in downtown residential and commercial activity and have engaged in a visioning exercise as part of the creation of a new downtown master plan.

Implementation of a new Community Policing Model including creation of a Citizen Advisory Board for the Police Department.

Passed an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance and a new Affordable Housing Strategy.

Passed an award winning tree protection ordinance.

Implemented the award winning WISE program that provides for increased energy efficiency for home owners in Chapel Hill.

Fostered a cooperative relationship with UNC.

The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

My biography demonstrates a life-long commitment to public service and to advocating for the interests of all members of our society. I have served our community not only as an elected official, but also as a teacher, the President of our state's ACLU affiliate, a leader of our state's gay and lesbian community, and as an advocate for criminal justice reform. I have been a champion of civil rights and civil liberties, anti-discrimination, equality, and transparent government both as a Council Member and as a private citizen. My experience and record as a Council Member and as Mayor has shown that my service history informs the policy decisions I have been charged to make. I have continued to be a strong advocate for our Town employees, been a leader in creating our affordable housing strategy, protecting our environment through advocacy of our award winning tree protection ordinance, and promoting land use policy that encourages our interest in creating a vibrant, walkable, transit-friendly and bicycle-friendly community that respects the contributions every member.

How do you define yourself politically (ie) conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid etc) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I consider myself a 21st Century Progressive. The issues I have worked on in my political and professional life are generally associated with the modern progressive movement: criminal justice and death penalty reform, LGBT rights, environmental protection, public financing of elections. The overarching theme reflects a commitment to social justice and is evidenced by all the work I have done as a Council Member and as Mayor.

Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

The focus I have had on economic development certainly has the potential to impact my popularity with voters. Economic development has only recently achieved primacy among our community goals. While continued vigilance on environmental and social justice issues remains necessary, Chapel Hill has found itself dealing with a new economic paradigm. I came to office ten years ago largely seen as a champion of environmental and social issues and I realize that this new focus may create some dissonance in the minds of some voters. I believe good leadership requires us to be nimble in how we address extant circumstances and how we prepare for our future. I realize some of the choices we will have to make over the next several years will require an enhanced consideration of economic forces affecting our community and may cost me some support as we work to balance these sustainability factors.

Do you support the cent sales tax referendum?


Would you support future ballot initiatives such as the transit tax?


What will you do to educate and involve the public not only in those decisions but in town affairs in general?

As Mayor, I am and will continue to have an important role in educating the community on these decisions and town affairs in general. I am and will continue to be an outspoken advocate on these issues.

This fiscal year saw the town make cut some bus routes and reduce their frequency, the town's July 4th celebration and Project Turnaroud, among other cost saving measures? Do you agree with the choices? If not, how would you have found the funds or what different cuts would you have made?

Yes. During the last several years the town has worked hard to "do more with less." This year, we had to "do less with less." This is most obvious in transit cuts. An analysis revealed that the reduced routes were the least used routes in our system. Chapel Hill transit has been facing increasing maintenance costs. Since the Transit budget operates as a separate budget from general operations, there was no mechanism to transfer funds from other operations. This budgetary separation exists because of the unique partnership we have with Carrboro and UNC. The July 4th celebration was a relatively small dollar event, but our Manager came to us in early in the budget process and informed us of his recommendation to cut it this year. This was not an unprecedented event. We did the same thing during the recession in the early 2000s. It was hard to eliminate this event, but I did hear feedback from many members of the community who understood that there were many cuts being made that only effected small segments of our community and that it was important for everyone to know that the Town was doing everything it could to reign in expenses during this very difficult budget year. As July 4th approached, we did hear from a private party who was willing to raise money for the event. Unfortunately, planning for a fireworks display required much more time than was available. I would certainly have supported private funding of the event had there been time.

The town plans to write a new comprehensive plan this year to guide the next 20 years of development, what process should be used and what driving principles and strategies should the end result include?

I fully support the plan we have in place and I was very involved in creating it. It is very citizen driven and seeks to bring hundreds, if not thousands, of people into the planning process. You can learn more on our town website:

I am especially proud of the goal we have set to involve upwards of 10,000 people in the process. It has the potential to truly be the people's comprehensive plan.

What's your view of the recent and in-progress additions to downtown, Greenbridge and 140 West and what's your hope for UNC's University Square development plans? What else needs to be done to preserve and further a unique and thriving downtown?

More residents and more diversity in commercial activity are critical to the success of downtown. Greenbridge, 140 West and the University Square project are great opportunities to help us achieve this goal. I look forward to the realizing the potential of having the University Square project help complete the gap between east and west Franklin St. and create a more cohesive downtown. I see commercial activity brought to the street, new residential development for university employees, new office space that will move us further toward a 12 month downtown, and a community space will link with the plaza across the street at 140 West. It is my hope that we will continue work on the Downtown Master Plan that will address the interests of our in-town neighborhoods, but will also help create an environment less dependent on the academic schedule.

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