The power of incumbency, the promise of youthful energy and a targeted campaign to raise taxes to support jobs and schools carried the Election Day in Orange County.
In Chapel Hill, incumbents Donna Bell, Matt Czajkowski and Jim Ward will be joined by Lee Storrow, 22, who ran a fierce campaign.
Carrboro returned Dan Coleman and Lydia Lavelle to its Board of Aldermen and welcomed aboard newcomer Michelle Johnson, an artist, yoga instructor and social worker.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board will feature Jamezetta Bedford, Mia Day Burroughs, Mike Kelley and Annetta Streater for another four-year stint. Orange Justice United founding member and local student gone IBM global project leader James Barrett earned a two-year seat with a fifth-place finish.
The sales tax referendum passed overwhelmingly with 60.7 percent of the vote. Revenues from the quarter-cent increase will be split between funding economic development and upgrading facilities in the county’s two school systems.
Franklin Street was teeming with campaign workers and others donning stickers and buttons Tuesday as the local political community rushed feverishly from party to party.
At R&R Grill, Storrow celebrated with his army of supporters. He ran what some political observers called the most impressive campaign in Chapel Hill in a dozen years. Storrow, who emerged from near obscurity, graduated from college in May and used a team of UNC Young Democrats and a broader community group to help pitch a platform of bridging the town-gown gap. Throughout the campaign, though, he showed that his candidacy was about much more than that.
“Residents responded to a candidate who went out in the community and talked to them and asked them what they cared about,” Storrow said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters how you communicate your message.”
Down the street at Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, Bell, who was appointed two years ago to fill the seat left vacant when Bill Strom resigned, was humbled by her inaugural and successful run.
“I could not have done this without a lot of people in this room who told me that this was a good choice,” she said, before popping champagne with her supporters.
Among those supporters was challenger Jason Baker, who finished fifth, a substantial improvement compared to his initial run in 2005 while still a UNC undergraduate. He and Bell, the two candidates who qualified for Voter Owned Elections funds, sent joint mailers and cheered each other on.
“Everybody but one person I voted for won,” Baker said. “I would have liked to do a little better, but tomorrow is another day. I’ll get up and go to [N.C. State University graduate school] class.”
Like Baker, who will continue to serve on the Chapel Hill Planning Board, Jon DeHart said he is committed to continue serving the town despite another unsuccessful bid.
“I’m still going to be a voice,” DeHart said at his party at Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery. “I know I did well because I made Donna Bell use the word ‘arduous’ in describing the Special Use Permit Process.”
Twelve-year incumbent Ward spent only the $5 filing fee and didn’t send any mailers or post any signs. He trusted, rightly, that his service would be enough to win.
“I needed that to be enough in terms of communicating what I was about and how well I could serve the voters’ best interests,” Ward said from Spanky’s. “It was a little different than everybody else and different than normal, but to have balance in my life that’s how I needed to run my campaign.”
Czajkowski, meanwhile, opted to put the sour in Sugarland. He declined the Independent‘s request for an interview. “The Independent?! Why would I talk to you?” he asked sternly. “You are never going to endorse me. Why should I talk to you?”
The Indy did not endorse Czajkowski in either of his town council bids or in his 2009 mayoral run.
Mayor Kleinschmidt, who easily won over challengers Kevin Wolff and Tim Sookram, said he was heartened that the race was not divisive this season, adding that the four victorious council candidates will contribute significantly to the town as it writes a new comprehensive plan.
In Carrboro, Lavelle, Coleman and Johnson all were eager to get to work. First on Johnson’s agenda, she said, is seeing to the end of the town’s anti-loitering ordinance, a ban on standing, sitting, reclining or remaining at the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads after 11 a.m. and before 5 a.m. each day.
“I’m excited to vote on that and I’m excited to find a solution for the workers and a bridge for our community,” Johnson said.
On the schools side, Barrett was honored, albeit a little disappointed, to win the two-year seat. He beat fellow challengers Kris Castellano and Raymond Conrad for the post.
“It’s a chance to make a difference,” he said from 411 West. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about challenges people have, and it’s a real chance to make progress.”
Chapel Hill/Carrboro Chamber of Commerce CEO Aaron Nelson was pleased with progress on the sales tax referendum. “We worked all day and over the last three months. We learned the lesson of losing,” he said. “We had a broad-based coalition and a clear message. Our community has made a real investment in our future.”
Correction (Nov. 10, 2011): Donna Bell was appointed to fill the seat left vacant when Bill Strom resigned (not when Mark Kleinschmidt became mayor).