The year 2015 is finally upon us – but before saying goodbye to 2014, the WCHL news team took a look back at the year that was in our local community.
In a year dominated by ice storms, high-profile elections, serious debates over policing and public safety and same-sex marriage, and still more scandal at UNC, what were the top news stories that shaped the year 2014 in Chapel Hill? And who were the top newsmakers?
As we do every year, WCHL’s news team compiled a list of the top 10 news stories, and the top 10 newsmakers, here in Orange County. Does your list match ours?
Listen to our 2014 Year In Review special!
Part 1: #10, #9, #8
Part 2: #7, #6, #5 (and the year in sports)
Part 3: Aaron Keck chats with Akiva Fox and Allison Driskill about the top stories of 2014 as viewed on Chapelboro.com.
Part 4: #4, #3, and #2
Part 5: #1
News Story: Rooftop Incident At Hampton Inn
Newsmaker: Rita Balaban
Our #10 news story of the year took place on Tuesday, September 30, when Carrboro police got a call that a man was on the roof of the Hampton Inn on Main Street, threatening to jump. What followed was an 18-hour standoff, during which Chapel Hill and Carrboro police shut down traffic downtown so trained negotiators could talk the man off the roof – which they did, successfully, the following morning.
Our #10 newsmaker is UNC economics professor Rita Balaban, the professor who unmasked three streakers who dashed through her classroom in October. Coincidentally, she was also the professor of the class that police entered in November to arrest the student who’d posted a bomb threat in the Pit on social media.
News Story: UNC’s Response To Ebola Crisis
Newsmaker: Francis Henry
Thousands in West Africa died during the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. Other than a handful of cases, the disease didn’t make it to the U.S., but in Chapel Hill, the work of UNC researchers was pivotal in the fight against the disease overseas.
Meanwhile, the fate of Hillsborough’s beloved, now-dilapidated Colonial Inn was a hot topic all year. Francis Henry, the building’s current owner, petitioned the town for permission to tear the historic building down, but was denied.
News Story: Teacher Pay
Newsmaker: Robert Campbell
North Carolina public school teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation – a fact that sparked an outcry in 2014. That outcry was so loud that state legislators actually responded to it, passing a sizable pay increase, but that didn’t quell the controversy: those raises were minimal at best for experienced teachers.
2014 was a banner year for Reverend Robert Campbell, whose tireless work on behalf of the Rogers Road community came to fruition at year’s end. Orange County municipalities finally came together on a remediation plan to extend water and sewer service to the neighborhood, and a new community center opened in the fall.
News story: Development in Chapel Hill
Newsmaker: Roger Perry
Our #7 news story and our #7 newsmaker go hand in hand: 2014 saw big debates about new developments in Chapel Hill, primarily at Obey Creek and the Ephesus/Fordham district. Developer Roger Perry was at the center of both discussions: his East West Partners is both the lead developer at Obey Creek and the developer behind the first major proposal at Ephesus/Fordham.
Wrapped up with development is the ongoing discussion about affordable housing – which is getting harder and harder to find. Chapel Hill teamed up with DHIC for a major affordable housing project in Ephesus/Fordham, but that’s on hold because clerical errors in DHIC’s funding application led to its rejection.
News story: Ferguson and Police Militarization
Newsmaker: Charles Blackwood
The events in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked several major debates locally: from protests over the non-indictment of the officer who killed Michael Brown (as well as the officer who killed Eric Garner) to a debate about perceived police militarization, sparked by the heavily-armed police response to protestors in Ferguson.
This year’s local elections were mostly a low-key affair, but the sheriff’s race was an exception, as six candidates vied to replace longtime sheriff Lindy Pendergrass. Charles Blackwood emerged victorious, defeating David Caldwell in a summer runoff.
News story: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
Newsmaker(s): Mark Kleinschmidt and Lydia Lavelle
Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC were all honored as “Bicycle Friendly” by the League of American Bicyclists, but our community was hit by a series of incidents involving bikers and pedestrians – most notably the tragic death of bicyclist Pamela Lane in October, in a collision with a vehicle on MLK.
It was a busy year all around for Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, but perhaps most notable was their respective contributions to the fight for same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Kleinschmidt was an attorney on the case that saw the state’s ban struck down; Lavelle and her partner Alicia Stemper were the first same-sex couple to apply for, and receive, a marriage license in Orange County.
News story: Ice Storm
Newsmaker: Rashad McCants
We won’t soon forget the February ice storm that shut down Chapel Hill and Carrboro for days, left motorists stuck on 15/501 and other roads for hours, and forced UNC to call off the Duke/Carolina basketball game scheduled for that evening. (Carolina won the rescheduled game, when it was finally played.)
Former UNC basketball star Rashad McCants made waves in the summer when he appeared on ESPN to declare not only that he’d taken phony classes and had tutors write his papers at UNC, but also that his coaches – including Roy Williams – knew all about it.
News story: Murder of Feng Liu
Newsmaker(s): Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan
Chapel Hill and the UNC community were shocked when pharmacy professor Feng Liu was attacked and killed on July 23, while taking a walk near campus in the middle of the afternoon. Two men were arrested for his murder the following day.
Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis waged a hard-fought (and extremely expensive) battle all year for a seat in the U.S. Senate. State House Speaker Tillis won, riding a Republican wave in spite of the unpopularity of the General Assembly.
News story: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized
Newsmaker: Carol Folt
In May, Mark Chilton unseated incumbent Deborah Brooks in the race for Orange County Register of Deeds, at least partly because he said he’d be willing to defy the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. As it turned out, though, that wouldn’t be necessary: a district court judge struck down that ban in October, and it was Brooks (not yet out of office) who issued Orange County’s first same-sex marriage license.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt was at the center of every major debate on campus. The academic/athletic scandal was the most prominent, of course, but there were also plenty of major accomplishments as well.
News story: The Wainstein Report
Newsmaker: Mary Willingham
Commissioned in February and delivered in October, Kenneth Wainstein’s 131-page report on academic irregularities at UNC shocked observers who thought they’d heard it all – shedding light on a “scheme” of fraudulent classes that went unchecked for nearly two decades.
Former UNC academic advisor Mary Willingham sparked massive debate when she appeared on CNN in January to blow the whistle on UNC admissions – arguing that a sizable percentage of UNC football and basketball players couldn’t read above an eighth-grade level.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/wchls-2014-year-review
In the November 4 election, Chris Hogan and Morris Shambley ran for the two open seats to serve on the Board of Supervisors for Orange County’s Soil and Water Conservation District.
Both men won easily, garnering 33,395 and 32,108 votes respectively. But nearly 900 Orange County voters took advantage of the write-in option on the ballot to add a bit of levity at the end of a long and grueling mid-term campaign season.
Some notable names:
-UNC athletes P.J. Hairston, Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson
-Deborah Crowder and Jan Boxill, both of whom were implicated in the Wainstein Report on academic fraud at UNC
-elected officials Damon Seils, Lee Storrow and Earl McKee
-former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards
-celebrities Eric Clapton, Ted Nugent, Vince McMahon and Hunter S Thompson
-two votes each for WCHL’s Morning Show host Ron Stutts and Chapelboro columnist Jeff Danner
-two for fictional Game of Thrones character Eddard Stark.
The majority of the write-ins were presumably for friends or family members. A few voters seemingly got confused, writing in the names of candidates running in Wake County.
You can read the full list here.
Another national election came and went last week, and when all was said and done, it was a very good night for Republicans across the country – better even than the pollsters had predicted.
Why did Republican candidates do so well across the board? And why did they outperform the pundits’ predictions?
Looking back, Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says pollsters overestimated Democratic turnout – partly because they’d underestimated Democratic turnout in 2012 and didn’t want to make the same error twice. PPP surveyed voters who’d voted in at least two of the last three national elections (2008, 2010, and 2012) – but that meant they surveyed some voters who’d only voted in presidential years, and Jensen says it’s becoming apparent that presidential elections and midterm elections simply draw two different pools of voters.
Still, PPP outperformed most other national polling outlets – and pollsters in general did accurately predict the winners of nearly all the Senate races. The one exception, as it happened, was North Carolina: most polls had Kay Hagan leading by a point or two, but Thom Tillis ended up winning by the same margin.
Jensen says there’s an explanation for that too. The 2014 election wasn’t as much of a ‘referendum on Obama’ as some believed – most voters actually based their votes on other factors, like the qualities of the individual candidates themselves – but voters who were undecided at the last minute did end up basing their votes on their opinion of the President, and the vast majority of those voters disapproved of him. (According to Jensen, Obama’s approval rating was only 10 percent among last-minute undecideds in the Hagan-Tillis race – and that difference alone was enough to turn a 1-point Hagan lead into a 2-point Tillis win.)
Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the 2014 election – and the art of polling.
Meanwhile, with the 2014 election in the books, the 2016 campaign has already begun.
Last week, conservative commentator Ben Carson became the first to officially declare his candidacy for president, and many more are sure to follow.
What can we expect to see in 2016? Will Democrats be able to recover from their big losses this year?
Jensen says yes – up to a point. Senate terms are six years long, so the Senate seats up for grabs in 2016 will be the same seats that were up for grabs in 2010. That was, of course, a great year for Republicans – which means the GOP will be on the defensive in 2016, just as the Democrats were in 2014 (having to defend all the seats they narrowly won in 2008). Republicans will have to defend six seats in states that Barack Obama won twice: Democratic-leaning Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and swing states Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida. (Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire appears safe, but the other five Senators could be vulnerable.)
Which means Democrats have a good chance of regaining some Senate seats in 2016 (though there are some vulnerable Democratic incumbents as well, like Michael Bennet in Colorado and Harry Reid in Nevada). The race for control of the House, however, may be a different story: because of how district lines are drawn across the country, very few Congressional seats are actually competitive. (Jensen says only 9 percent of Congressional races this year were decided by a margin of less than 10 percent.) So unless 2016 sees a major shift in the electorate – not impossible, but unlikely – Jensen says the balance of power in the House isn’t likely to change much.
As for the presidential election? Jensen says PPP’s early polls suggest Ben Carson is actually one of Republican voters’ top four choices for the GOP nomination, despite (or because of?) his never having held political office.
Jensen spoke with Aaron Keck about what to expect in 2016.
PPP will release more data from its 2016 surveys later this week. Visit this link for a discussion of the 2016 Senate picture.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/turnout-obama-mattered-2014
As expected, the Democratic Party gained some seats in the North Carolina General Assembly in Tuesday’s election – but not enough to overcome the GOP’s veto-proof majority in either house.
It was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would retain their majorities in the State House and Senate; the GOP entered Tuesday’s election with a 77-43 advantage in the House and a 33-17 edge in the Senate, and very few of those 170 total districts were competitive in this cycle. (Many candidates ran unopposed.) But Democrats were hoping to gain enough seats to end the Republican veto-proof “supermajority”: as long as the GOP holds more than 60 percent of the seats in both houses, a united party can override any gubernatorial veto.
According to the State Board of Elections, Democrats did pick up three net seats in the House to cut the GOP’s advantage to 74-46 – but they needed at least three more gains to overcome the supermajority. In the Senate, Democrats actually dropped one seat, giving Republicans a 34-16 edge.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/dems-gain-ncga-gop-keeps-supermajority
Republicans have seized control of the Senate and strengthened their hold on the House in a wave of Election Day victories.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell defeated his Democratic challenger in Kentucky, putting him in position to become the new Senate majority leader.
Republicans picked up Senate seats in seven states.
And Republicans are on track in the House to meet or exceed the 246 seats they held during President Harry Truman’s administration more than 60 years ago.
Republicans also swept governor’s races across the country, scoring upsets in Democratic bastions like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois.
The Democrats’ only significant victory came in Pennsylvania, where businessman Tom Wolf ousted GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.
Three contests remain too close to call: Alaska, Colorado and Connecticut.
House Speaker John Boehner is telling Republicans that despite victories in the House and Senate, it’s “not a time for celebration.”
Boehner says instead, it’s time for government to start “implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country.” He says those challenges begin with what he calls a “still-struggling economy.”
Most voters would agree with that. Exit polls showed voters don’t have much trust in government, feel the nation is off on the wrong track and believe life will be worse for the next generation.
And above all, voters surveyed while leaving the polls say they’re worried about the economy. People who say their own financial situation grew worse in the past two years voted for Republican congressional candidates by a 2-1 margin.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/2014-election-gop-wins-big-nationwide
Democrat Mia Burroughs becomes the newest member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners after beating Republican Gary Kahn with 76 percent of the vote.
Burroughs won with 37,184 votes, while Kahn took in 11,694.
Burroughs has served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board since 2007, but she says now she’s ready to dig into countywide issues.
Burroughs will represent District 1, covering Chapel Hill and Carrboro. She’ll join Earl McKee and Barry Jacobs who won re-election to the District 2 and At Large seats on the board. They were each running unopposed.
There were no surprises in the majority of the local races on the ballot Tuesday, as most were decided in the May Democratic Primary.
Mark Chilton was elected Register of Deeds with 40,000 votes. After beating incumbent Deborah Brooks in the primary, he was running unopposed in the General Election.
Similarly, Charles Blackwood faced no opposition in the race for Orange County Sherriff. He won a second primary in July against challenger David Caldwell.
Blackwood received 43,900 votes in Tuesday’s election. He will replace Lindy Pendergrass, who has served as sheriff since 1982.
After months of politicking, an endless stream of campaign ads, and more than $100 million in spending – just on the Senate race alone – Election Day 2014 has finally arrived.
Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
If you have any issues at the polls, call the (non-partisan) National Election Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA. The UNC Center for Civil Rights is hosting the NEH’s North Carolina call center.
If you don’t know where to go vote, find your polling place here. There are 44 precincts in Orange County.
Once you know your precinct, visit this link for a sample ballot.
If you have questions about voting, visit this page of FAQs from the NC Board of Elections. (Remember you do not need a photo ID to vote this year – but you will need one in 2016. Precinct workers will ask if you have an ID, just to make sure you’re ready for the next election cycle.)
Visit Chapelboro.com on Election Night for the latest returns as they come in. WCHL will host live election coverage on Tuesday night after the Evening News.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/election-day
Election Day is upon us, and if the pollsters are to be believed, races are extremely tight all across the nation.
Republicans are going to pick up some seats in the U.S. Senate, but it’s still unclear how many: most pollsters say the GOP is likely going to regain control of the Senate from Democrats, but that’s far from a sure thing. The latest surveys from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling show neck-and-neck races for Senate seats in Georgia, New Hampshire, Kansas, and Iowa – and those are only some of the key seats up for grabs.
And in North Carolina, incumbent Senator Kay Hagan appears to be leading her challenger, Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis – but only by a very narrow margin.
WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen about what to expect when the final numbers come in.
Tune in to WCHL after the Tuesday Evening News for live Election Night coverage; Tom Jensen will be among our guest analysts. And visit Chapelboro.com for all the election returns as they come in after the polls close Tuesday night.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/election-day-one-big-toss
The early voting period ended on Saturday, with turnout in Orange County significantly higher than in the last midterm in 2010.
After a spike in turnout on the last two days, when all was said and done, a total of 23,195 Orange County residents cast early ballots this year. To put that into perspective: in the last midterm four years ago, about 16,500 voters cast early ballots – and that was when the early voting period was significantly longer.
Saturday saw the highest daily turnout, with 3256 voters casting ballots – including nearly a thousand at the Seymour Center alone. Bad weather often has a negative effect on turnout, but the rain held off for most of the day on Saturday.
Local political expert Gerry Cohen reported on Facebook that turnout was up across the state too: statewide, there was a 25 percent increase in Democratic turnout, a 5 percent increase in Republican turnout, and a 45 percent increase in turnout among Libertarians and unaffiliated voters. And there was also a big spike in turnout among African-American voters: up about 45 percent from 2010.
Election Day itself is Tuesday, November 4.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/early-voting-turnout-way-2010
Budgeting and education are two of the top issues in the race for a District 1 seat, as Republican Gary Kahn and Democrat Mia Burroughs are vying to represent Chapel Hill and Carrboro on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Burroughs is a long-time member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School board. She says addressing the county’s growing poverty problem would be one of her main priorities if elected. Kahn says he’d look to tighten up the county budget wherever possible.
Both school districts are facing major renovations to repair aging facilities, at a time when state funding for education is being cut. County leaders are eyeing a possible bond referendum to pay for the repairs, a move Burroughs says she’d support. By contrast, Kahn says he thinks it’s up to the school systems to fund the renovations.
WCHL’s Aaron Keck hosted a live forum for the candidates. You can listen to the full forum here.
The District 1 race is the only contested Orange County seat this election. Though Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs and District 2 representative Earl McKee are up for re-election, they are not facing any challengers.
Early voting is underway now until 1 pm Saturday. Election Day is November 4.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/bocc-candidates-talk-budgets-school-repairs