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A Look at the Upcoming Chapel Hill Town Council Race

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.


  1. Gary Kahn

    why is George Cianciolo running against Sally Greene when he gave up a chance for a town council seat to support her, does he dislike her now and thinks she is now doing a bad job as a councilwoman, Whats up George?

    • George Cianciolo

      I’m not running against anyone. I’m running for one of the four open seats on Town Council, just like the other nine candidates. That’s the way our system works.

  2. Ed Harrison

    As I wrote Evan Degnan, author of this piece, you will find no record in either writing or audio that I “represent the Durham County part of Chapel Hill.” This is because I don’t, and never have. Candidates in Chapel Hill run and are elected town-wide, and we are elected to represent the entire population. I know the area better than most because of encountering and working on a wide range of issues. My Council webpage includes the information that I live there so as to help to explain the mailing address assigned decades ago to my street by the US Postal Service.

  3. Eugene Farrar

    I have known Maria Palmer for almost 13 years, and during this time she has demonstrated a very good knowledge on the politics of Chapel Hill. Maria would be a great asset to the Town Council as we move forward with the CH 2020 Plan. Not only is Maria educated; Maria Palmer is educated to the movement of Chapel Hill and will give more diversity to the Town Council. I look forward to Maria Palmer working with the Town Council and all the citizens of the Chapel Hill Community, and I am glad to serve as her campaign manager.
    Eugene Farrar


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