When Chapel Hill candidates Jess Anderson, Melissa McCullough, and Theodore Nollert hugged each other on Franklin Street on Election Night, they kept repeating one magic word: 


Council member-elect Melissa McCullough, mayor-elect Jess Anderson, and council member-elect Theodore Nollert on Franklin Street Tuesday night Credit: Photo by Chase Pellegrini de Paur

Anderson won about 60 percent of the vote for mayor, besting competitor Adam Searing’s 40 percent. 

In a race for four open town council seats, McCullough, Nollert, and ally Amy Ryan each won more than 6,000 votes. That was over 1,000 more votes than the next best performers, Searing allies Renuka Soll and Elizabeth Sharp, who won about 4,680 votes each. McCullough, Ryan, and Nollert will all sit on the next council.

The fourth seat will go to Soll or Sharp, in a race that, currently separated by 14 votes, is still too close to call as provisional and some mail ballots may still be outstanding.

Tuesday’s numbers didn’t just represent a victory for the new mayor-elect and her team—they granted a clear mandate for her vision, and her campaign slogan, of “moving Chapel Hill forward.”

Anderson, a UNC Chapel Hill public policy professor, won her first town council election in 2015. Her campaign this year, endorsed by outgoing Mayor Pam Hemminger, was built on her record as a council member who pushed for the town’s Complete Community framework to provide more clarity and structure to the council’s zoning approval process. Anderson was also endorsed by most of the current council and nearly all of the local organizations that typically make endorsements.

McCullough is a former EPA scientist who ran on her environmental experience as well as seven years on the town planning commission. She touted that commission experience as a vital “training ground” for council, since it required her to learn how to work within a unique tangle of North Carolina laws that often tie the hands of local bodies. 

Ryan was the only incumbent council member running to defend her seat, with Tai Huynh and Michael Parker stepping aside. A book editor, Ryan was also a force behind the Complete Communities framework. She ran on a platform of making “change work for us,” arguing that Chapel Hill is at a crossroads, and the resulting change doesn’t have to be bad for the town. 

Nollert, graduate student government president at UNC, ran a campaign based on a vision of growth and greenways: “say yes to Chapel Hill’s future” was his campaign slogan. A top fundraiser in the race, Nollert was recognized as “the young one” by more than a few residents when he was spotted knocking doors.

Theodore Nollert addresses the crowd at his watch party at Linda’s Tuesday night Credit: Photo by Chase Pellegrini de Paur

Although Searing lost his bid for mayor, he will hold his current council seat until 2025. He will be joined by an ally in either Soll or Sharp, both of whom ran on his slate.

Soll, the current chair of the town’s parks commission, emphasized in her campaign a need to increase funding for Chapel Hill’s parks. Sharp, whose family owns two restaurants in Chapel Hill, raised concerns about large development firms making the town unfriendly towards local businesses like the Purple Bowl.

Reach Reporter Chase Pellegrini de Paur at chase@indyweek.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

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