Jason Baker announced today his run for Chapel Hill Town Council and is the first candidate thus far to opt in to the Voter-Owned Elections public financing in this campaign. He joins Augustus Cho, Jon DeHart and Lee Storrow in seeking one of four seats on the line in the November election.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt is expected to announce his re-election bid at a supporters’s event at 7 p.m. tonight at the Crunkleton on Franklin Street. Challengers are yet to surface. Filing starts Friday at noon and runs until July 15.

  • Photo courtesy of Jason Baker

Baker, who ran while a UNC student in 2005 has served five years on the town’s planning board, sits on the Comprehensive Plan Initiating Committee and completed a term on the transportation board. He is the political chairman of the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club (a position he will step down from during election endorsement season), third vice chairman of the Orange County Democrats and works at Weaver Street Market coordinating public relations and outreach.

He says environmentally sensitive growth, economic development that helps preserve the town’s aesthetic appeal and using technology to improve communications will highlight his campaign.

“In general I think the direction of the majority of our council has been fairly aligned with what I hope they will continue to do and what I hope to drive,” Baker said.

He was one of four planning board members to support a moratorium on building in Northside and Pine Knolls. Though the vote split 5-4, the council moved forward with a building freeze and Baker says
He says the town has taken “some baby steps in the right direction” on economic development but now is the time to “create an economy to diversity the tax base and remove the residential tax burden.”

Baker will opt into the Voter-Owned Elections program, which means he will only accept contributions between $5 and $20. If he amasses $838 from 83 contributors, he will earn a $3,351 public grant for campaign expenses.

“Campaigns should be about voters, not money,” he says.

Last cycle, the first in which the option was available , Council member Penny Rich and Mayor Kleinschmidt participated in the program and were victorious.

Baker brought a youthful enthusiasm to the 2005 race but struggled to galvanize a UNC campus where the majority of students are apathetic about local elections. No longer the youngest person running, 2011 UNC graduate Lee Storrow has that distinction, he says he has broadened his network and hopes to call on “the real assets of truly being a community member rather than just a student living in the community.”

“What I’ve learned in the meantime is a great deal about how local government works and how you make productive change,” Baker says. “At the end of the day a lot of the time with development issues it’s not whether you vote up or down, it’s the advice you give as it goes through the process.”

His full press release is here:

Dear Friends,

I am writing to let you know that I have decided to seek a seat on the Chapel Hill Town Council this fall. After many conversations with friends, family, and colleagues in local government, I am excited by the opportunity to serve my town and my community. I hope to bring a new but experienced perspective to the Town Council. Here is what I have to offer:

An approach to development that is sensitive to environmental and neighborhood concerns

Chapel Hill will continue to grow and change. That much is inevitable. The Town Council’s job is to ensure that it grows and changes in a way that ensures our long term economic, environmental, and social sustainability while remaining sensitive to the needs of current neighbors. We must grow in ways that are respectful of the historical and cultural heritage that make Chapel Hill such a great place to live, while at the same time adjusting our building styles and land use patterns to do our part in addressing complex issues like global climate change.

A focus on economic development to ensure a vibrant and sustainable local economy

For too long we’ve treated economic development and environmental & aesthetic preservation as two opposing goals – as if working for one necessitates working against the other. I feel that it is time that we begin to recognize the strength we have as a culturally diverse, exciting, and fun place to live, and the incredible drawing power such a strength has for locating high-paying and high-quality creative class jobs in our area. Rather than just saying no to the kinds of business that we don’t want, we need to spend time and energy developing a plan to attract and grow the kinds of environmentally conscious, community-oriented, and preferably locally-owned businesses we do want.

Continued technology and communications improvements

The Town has made great strides in the past several years in improving our use of technology and communication tools, but there are still many missed opportunities. We need to continue to focus on making information easily accessible in a timely manner, and to be proactive about communicating proposed changes to those who will be affected by them. Open government leads to improvements in efficiency, and allows citizens to provide higher quality oversight and more informed feedback that our staff and elected officials can readily consider.

Representation on behalf of those not at the table

We are fortunate that wealth and a high standard of living are so common in our community, but we cannot let this overshadow the needs of those who have yet to achieve them. A fair wage, a decent place to live, access to quality food, educational opportunities, and basic human dignities are among many things important for us to consider at every turn. Whether these manifest themselves in our affordable housing policies, the pay and benefits we give our town employees, the provision of our fare-free transit system, or the many human, health, educational, and other services we work with our local government and nonprofit partners to provide, we must always remember that those most in need of our help are often those least able to come to us and ask.

My Background

I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Environmental Science & Studies, and am currently a part-time graduate student in Geospatial Information Science at NC State. Professionally, I have worked for the past three years in the marketing department of Weaver Street Market where I coordinate public relations and outreach. I’m currently beginning my fourth year on the Chapel Hill Planning Board, served recently on the town’s Comprehensive Plan Initiating Committee, and was previously on the town’s Transportation Board while I was an undergraduate at UNC. I have held numerous other leadership positions within our community, including political chair and executive board member of the Orange Chatham Sierra Club, third vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, and as a member of other committees in local government and at the university.

I also have a strong interest in economic development and alternative revenue options in Chapel Hill and throughout Orange County, and believe that these will prove our best hope of keeping residential property taxes affordable. To this end, I served on Orange County’s local revenue options committee in 2008 to help educate our community about the transfer tax option. I have also been involved with local business groups in all three of Orange County’s municipalities, including efforts to start a BALLE chapter in Carrboro, and for the past year as chair of Hillsborough’s downtown merchants association.

My Campaign

I am excited that Chapel Hill’s public financing system will allow my campaign this fall to be truly Voter Owned. By committing to collect a large number of small donations from Chapel Hill residents and adhering to the associated spending limits, I hope to make my campaign about inclusiveness and freedom from special interests, and further, to promote the idea that one’s political speech should not be directly related to the size of his or her wallet. Campaigns should be about voters, not money, and Chapel Hill’s public financing system should serve as a model for similar programs throughout the state.

I’m looking forward to the campaign this fall, and I hope you’ll join me! I will soon have a campaign website in place, and look forward to the numerous forums and other opportunities to link with our community.

With sincere regards,

Jason Baker