One week before the candidate-filing period officially opens for municipal elections contenders for Chapel Hill Town Council are lining up for the campaign season.
Four council seats are up for grabs: Donna Bell, Sally Greene, Matt Czajkowski and Jim Ward all must defend or give up their slots. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt also is up for re-election.
Among the challengers thus far, former mayoral and congressional candidate and Transportation Board Chairman Augustus Cho has announced a run for council, and past candidate Jon DeHart is gearing up for another campaign.
DeHart says he has “done a better job defining my message” this time, and lists his top priorities as economic and environmental sustainability, affordable housing and increased transparency. He’s also served on the town’s transportation board for the last year and completed the inaugural Chapel Hill Citizens Police Academy.
“I’m going to work harder and meet more people. I’ve developed more relationships,” he says. “Nobody knew who I was two years ago.”
Newcomer to the field Lee Storrow, who graduated from UNC this spring and who serves on the town’s Initiating Committee for the Comprehensive Plan says he plans to knock on 1,000 doors in July and 1,000 more in August.
“I expect to be the most hard-working candidate and reach out to the most people” said Storrow, 22, managing director of the N.C. Alliance for Health. “I will be hot and sweaty all summer long.”
Storrow, who worked for Kleinschmidt’s campaign and says his political views align closely with the mayor (he couldn’t name a decision he disagreed with in the past two years), says he wants to bring students into the conversation and help them realize that “they have an impact in this community and there’s a world outside of South Road and Franklin Street.”
Describing himself as “an aggressive young person who can build coalitions,” Storrow cites experience as president of UNC’s Young Democrats and working with the American Legacy Foundation, known for its Truth anti-smoking campaign, as evidence.
He supports putting a sales tax increase on the ballot to pursue light rail, the IFC shelter relocation and ads on Chapel Hill Transit buses. He opposed the controversial Aydan Court development, but declined to weigh in on the firing of the Sanitation Two, saying that because he doesn’t have the same access to personnel records at the council that he couldn’t offer a fair assessment.
He wants smart development, not growth, he says. Storrow, an Asheville native, has long been connected to Chapel Hill. His parents met at UNC while studying public health. Storrow would become among the youngest openly gay elected officials in the nation at 22, but he says that “is probably the least interesting thing” about him.
DeHart, meanwhile, is trying to shed the “pro-business” label that many used to define his 2009 campaign.
“I kind of got painted as something that I didn’t think I was,” he says.
As a mortgage lender with two decades of experience, he says “there’s nobody on the council or that’s running that knows more about housing and trying to help people get into housing than I do. That’s what I do for a living.”
He says his support for the business community isn’t displayed by a laissez-faire approach. The development approval process should be scrupulous, he says, it just shouldn’t take as long and needs to be more consistent.
“I think our process should be tough. We are unique and we have high standards,” he says. “Just make the target very, very small for the developer to hit, but don’t move the target on them.”
He also warned that the town must do something to better balance the residential to commercial tax burden and more carefully guard reserve funds.
Though he admits he’s “not as progressive as a lot of Orange County folks,” he says he’s pro-choice and supports same-sex couples.
He points to his distinction as an Eagle Scout as a sign of his honesty, transparency and environmental stewardship.
The field is expected to grow more crowded before the July 15 deadline.
Cho was out of town on business and unable to comment for this story, but we’ll bring you more on his candidacy and that of others who announce runs in the coming days.