For the last three election cycles, nearly every candidate endorsed by Chapel Hill’s notoriously anti-development community group, CHALT—the Chapel Hill Association for a Livable Town—won election to local office. 

That ended last week. 

Mayor Pam Hemminger handily defeated CHALT-backed candidate and town council member Hongbin Gu, and three pro-growth candidates won seats on the council. Only one CHALT-endorsed candidate—Adam Searing—made it on to the council, and he received the fewest votes.

“[CHALT] took a gut punch in this election,” says former Orange County commissioner Mark Marcoplos. “It could be the beginning of a new era here.” 

For those paying attention, the signs were all there (and no, we’re not talking about the anonymous political signs accusing Karen Stegman of “betraying” residents with her vote for the Aura development, which CHALT denied putting out). CHALT’s power and influence was waning, criticism was mounting over the group’s allegedly divisive political tactics, and a new progressive agenda promoting a denser, more walkable town was gaining popularity.

A recent survey from Public Policy Polling also indicated CHALT’s apparent decline: just 26 percent of participants reported having a favorable view of the organization. Forty percent claimed to have an unfavorable view of CHALT, and 34 percent responded “not sure.”

“I think this election really showed people are seeing a different path forward,” Hemminger says. “They want Chapel Hill to become vibrant, they are interested in bikeways and greenways, and interested in how we can create that middle housing.”

Hemminger secured a fourth term as mayor with 61 percent of the vote to Gu’s 37 percent. (UNC–Chapel Hill law school student Zachary R. Boyce won 2.5 percent of the vote.) In the council race, the top vote getter was Stegman, possibly boosted by the backlash garnered from the anti-Aura signs. Stegman, Camille Berry, and Paris Miller-Foushee received about 20 percent of the vote each. Searing hung on to fourth place with 17 percent of the vote, edging out CHALT-backed candidate Vimala Rajendran. 

The results were vindicating, Stegman says. Voters, she says, “are tired of the same old, same old …. People are craving, especially after the last two years of living through a global pandemic, they are craving connection, they are craving authenticity, and cooperation, and collaboration.”

CHALT was formed in 2015 by a group of citizens dissatisfied with the town’s leadership at the time. They felt neighborhood issues were being overlooked, and members promoted themselves as environmentalists. Founder Julie McClintock would tell you CHALT’s members aren’t against the town’s growth but want Chapel Hill to grow in the right way—a way that preserves “what people love about the town” and not “just add more people.” 

McClintock didn’t respond to the INDY’s request for comment on the election but took an optimistic tone in an op-ed published on, writing that “elections ebb and flow and there are many measures of success.” She praised Gu’s mayoral campaign and Searing’s election to council. 

“We are looking forward to building bridges and sharing what we’re about to the community,” McClintock wrote.

Discussion took on a less congenial tone on neighborhood networking site Nextdoor, where one supporter spiraled into a rant that was shared on social media. 

“CHALT is not dead,” began the Election Night comment. “THIS IS NOT A SPRINT.”

The post went on to state that CHALT’s opposition “took a few pages from the GOP and Nazi handbooks.” 

That kind of rhetoric is what’s sown a new level of divisiveness in Chapel Hill politics, Marcoplos says. He says he hopes the new council will be “one with a shared vision rather than divisiveness and tribalism dominating the debates.”

As for CHALT?

“I don’t know what they do to regroup at this point,” says Hemminger. 

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