A Look at the Upcoming Chapel Hill Town Council Race

With filing for the 2013 municipal elections closed, the field for Chapel Hill’s Town Council election is set. This year, ten candidates filed for four seats, with incumbents Gene Pease and Laurin Eastholm choosing not to run for re-election. Here’s a preview of the race:

The Incumbents
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, who likes to say he represents the Durham part of Chapel Hill, filed for his fourth term on the Chapel Hill Town Council. The other incumbent, Sally Greene, returned to Town Council after being appointed to current County Commissioner Penny Rich’s vacated seat. Given past results, one would expect both incumbents to win in November.

Early Favorites
George Cianciolo
served as Co-Chair of the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan Committee and is widely considered the frontrunner among challengers. His experience has allowed him to build relationships with a host of community stakeholders, hearing first-hand the frustrations of citizens across Chapel Hill. But experience isn’t always enough, and Cianciolo will need to make his case to voters in Chapel Hill, door-by-door.

Amy Ryan, a former planning board member with connections to local activists, advocates for greater neighborhood input throughout the entire development process. Ryan is the only other candidate to have received votes from Town Council during the appointment process for Rich’s seat this spring, and she has expressed concern about growth in Chapel Hill.

Experienced educator and Pastor Maria Palmer is a relative newcomer to town politics and has stressed education early on in her campaign. Given the limited role the Town Council plays in education policy, Palmer will need to diversify her talking points if she’s going to be successful.

The Dark Horses
Loren Hintz is a former teacher and past chair of the transportation board. He wants to be part of a more active and receptive Town Council and views campaigning as the first step to that. If this is a sign that Hintz will be actively knocking on doors, he could easily surprise folks.

Paul Neebe, a real estate broker and musician, fits the mold of the more pro-growth, business oriented candidates we’ve seen in recent years. Advocating for greater commercial development, Neebe will need to follow the trail of Czajkowski and Pease, who were both successful fundraisers.

Southern Village resident Gary Kahn has limited experience in local government beyond attending council meetings as an observer, and has cited concerns over a number of pending developments in Chapel Hill. Given the proximity, one would think the proposed Obey Creek development may have been a catalyst for Kahn’s entrance into the race.

Political strategist and Professor Jonathan Riehl is a newcomer to local politics, having worked on Federal level campaigns in the past. He’s expressed concern over the pace of growth and how sustainable it is moving forward.

At 25, D.C. Swinton is this year’s young candidate in the race; though, don’t expect a repeat of 2011. Having already run for office twice in South Carolina, Swinton has made preventing sexual assault on campus his top priority.


Keep Your Promises, Governor

Laura Leslie: “If you’re elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?”

Pat McCrory: “None.”

That was the promise now Governor McCrory made in October of 2012 during a gubernatorial debate. His answer was surprising and made headlines across the state. Unfortunately the Governor recently had a change of heart and stands poised to sign into law a host of new abortion restrictions (SB 353) that were recently passed by the General Assembly. Among those restrictions is a mandate that health care plans offered by local governments don’t cover abortion.

On the surface this restriction might not seem onerous, but the realities of private insurance plans complicate the issue. In 2002, when the most recent data was available, 87% of private insurance plans covered medically necessary or appropriate abortions. This doesn’t count plans that only covered abortion under limited circumstances such as rape, incest or life of the mother. By passing new restrictions on cash-strapped municipalities, the state is effectively removing 90% of the competition for health insurance.

Such an intrusion into the free market is hard to reconcile with public comments made by Republican leaders. Conservatives often use the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to justify weakening the social safety net or moving forward with fracking, despite the dangers. On the other hand, when they have a chance to restrict a woman’s right to choose, the free market takes a back seat.

Through this dissonance we can see their hypocrisy. These aren’t the actions of Representatives with deeply held values and principles. They are the actions of opportunists; looking for any justification to pass the ultra-conservative agenda they promised donors and supporters.

In response, nearly 40 local elected officials have already signed on to an open letter opposing SB 353. Included among the signatories were Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschimdt, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and a host of other Orange county officials.

These local leaders understand the challenge of balancing a budget in difficult economic times. They need to be empowered to come up with innovative solutions to the problems they face, not to be hamstrung by bureaucrats in Raleigh. Recent polling shows that a strong plurality of voters are opposed to SB 353 and hope McCrory won’t sign it. This puts McCrory and the Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion and sound public policy, let’s hope they realize before it’s too late.