In the Oct. 6 election that decided key races in Cary and Raleigh, Wake County reported a paltry 11 percent voter turnout. Durham’s turnout was even worse for its primary, clocking in at just over 7 percent.

C’mon, guys. We can do better.

There are crucial questions to be decided on the November ballot. This is especially true in Chapel Hill, which has seen a remarkably acrimonious campaign for mayor and Town Council. But it’s also the case in Raleigh, where Eddie Woodhouse is fighting to become the City Council’s only Republican, and Durham, where the retirement of two beloved incumbent Council members has opened the door for a field of smart, progressive newcomers.

On these pages, you’ll find our endorsements for Durham mayor and City Council; Raleigh’s District A City Council seat; Chapel Hill mayor, Town Council and ballot referenda; and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. (You’ll notice that we’ve not endorsed in the Carrboro mayoral and Board of Aldermen races—the incumbents are running unopposed—or in races in Hillsborough or Chatham County. This decision was designed to focus our resources on the areas we know best.)

No matter whom you support, the future of the Triangle’s towns and cities rides on the people who actually show up at the polls. Be one of them.


As if there were any doubt, the INDY is proud to once again endorse longstanding incumbent Bill Bell for what is expected to his final term as mayor.

Bell, who secured 86 percent of the primary vote earlier this month, will square off against distant-second-place finisher James Lyons. A Democrat who works for Time-Warner Cable, Lyons says a lot of good things about the problems of affordable housing, crime and racial profiling. He’s also the founder of Keys to Life, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring teens. That’s commendable.

But it’s not enough to overcome Bell’s lengthy record of accomplishment.

During the mayor’s eight terms in office, Durham has undergone a renaissance, especially in its downtown, which not so long ago was the kind of place you didn’t walk alone after dark. Today it’s teaming with nightlife and culture. This isn’t to say we agree with Bell on everything: We’re more sympathetic to Councilman Steve Schewel’s plan to use city-owned land for affordable housing than Bell’s proposal to subsidize developers, for example. Even so, the mayor deserves one last term to see his city’s revitalization through.

City Council (3 seats open)

Of the six finalists for three at-large Council seats, three candidates stand out. These are the same three we endorsed last month, and they also happen to be the primary’s top-three vote getters: Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece and Steve Schewel.

The other finalists—Ricky Hart, Mike Shiflett and Robert T. Stephens—all have merit. Hart is the former chairman of the city’s Human Relations Commission, where he gained insight into racial profiling within the police department and what to do about it. Stephens, a Black Lives Matter organizer who works for Teach for America, shares many of the priorities of our three endorsees on policing and affordable housing. And Shiflett, the retired owner of a medical lab equipment company who has been endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham and the Sheriff and Police Alliance, has a robust résumé of community activism.

Were their opponents not so strong, any of these candidates might have won our support. But Johnson, Reece and Schewel are all a cut above.

Schewel, the INDY‘s founder and longtime publisher, has spent his first four years on Council becoming an outspoken affordable-housing advocate. While Schewel generally thinks the city is moving in the right direction—we tend to agree—he points out that this is no time for Durham to rest on its laurels. He has intriguing ideas about reducing landfill waste, is an ardent supporter of light rail and understands that the city lags on things like trails and bike lanes.

Johnson, the director of the Southern Vision Alliance, which facilitates youth-centered organizations that seek to promote social and education justice, gender equity and LGBTQ rights, has been a tireless advocate for Durham’s lower-income residents. She also wants to improve relations between the community and the police and deprioritize marijuana enforcement.

Reece, the recently appointed treasurer of the N.C. Democratic Party, will be a much-needed voice for affordable housing and what he calls community policing, by which he means cops walking beats instead of only responding to calls.

All three deserve election to the City Council.


City Council, District A

The fate of Republican representation on Raleigh’s City Council is now in the hands of District A voters.

With Wayne Maiorano declining to run for re-election and David Cox defeating John Odom in District B, the Republicans will be able to claim a spot on Council only if Edwin “Eddie” Woodhouse wins the one runoff on the November ballot. If Dickie Thompson wins, Council will consist solely of Democrats and left-leaning independents. (Yes, we know, Council is ostensibly nonpartisan.) Concerns about ideological hegemony are legitimate, but they’re no reason to side with Woodhouse.

We endorse Thompson, a small-business owner and chair of the board of the RDU Airport Authority. Thompson is Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s choice. He’ll be a strong ally to McFarlane and will likely subscribe more to the “neighborhood protection” view than the “pro-development” one. Given the pro-neighborhood tilt of the other Council elections earlier this month, this seems to be what voters want. And given the power developers have exerted in recent years, it’s also what Raleigh needs.

Woodhouse has some experience working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he says makes him knowledgeable about affordable housing. But his priorities read like a laundry list of Republican talking points: slow spending, fiscal responsibility and “pay down the City’s $2 billion debt.” (The city reported a total debt of about $1.6 billion as of June 30.)

Thompson pulled in the most votes in the three-way race Oct. 6, but didn’t clear the 50-percent-plus-one threshold to avoid a runoff. The third District A candidate, JB Buxton, came in only 88 votes behind Woodhouse. Buxton is a Democrat, so there’s a good chance his voters will throw in for Thompson Nov. 3. As they should.



Let’s face it: The mayor of Chapel Hill, presiding over a remarkably like minded Town Council, can sometimes seem like a figurehead. But that’s not really the case. The job takes gravitas, intelligence and the ability to set an agenda. Incumbent Mark Kleinschmidt has all that in spades.

Over the last six years, Kleinschmidt has guided Chapel Hill through a well-publicized growth spurt while maintaining its reputation as a bastion of progressive governance. Moreover, the civil rights lawyer and former Town Council member is thoughtful, responsive and open to criticism.

Which is good, because there are valid concerns about Chapel Hill’s course.

After years of handwringing over what kind of development to allow, Chapel Hill has of late seemed hasty in its rush to grow. The gentrifying impact of the Greenbridge condominiums on the Northside community, for instance, should be an embarrassment to a locale that touts its openness to diversity. Until UNC announced a town-managed $3 million loan for Northside preservation earlier this year, local officials had been far too lax in addressing the problem.

Kleinschmidt’s main challenger, the extremely capable and well-regarded former county commissioner and school board member Pam Hemminger, is similarly right to slam the town’s sluggish response to the health and economic impacts the former landfill has wrought on the Rogers Road community. (A third candidate, Gary Kahn, isn’t worth discussing.)

But, despite his very vocal critics, we don’t subscribe to the belief that Kleinschmidt’s mayoralty has somehow been disastrous. Kleinschmidt has proven himself a pragmatic leader who is strong on public transit (including light rail) and affordable housing (though there’s much more work to do). His push for a walkable, well-connected commercial makeover for the Ephesus-Fordham sector has great promise as well.

For this and many other reasons, we’re sticking with Kleinschmidt.


Town Council (4 seats open)

Yes, unemployment in Chapel Hill is perpetually low. Yes, local schools are among the best in North Carolina. And yes, Chapel Hill is a progressive lighthouse in a red state. But there are problems lingering just beneath the idyllic surface.

Residents and local business owners are increasingly called upon to shoulder a weighty tax burden. Local retailers struggle to endure even as high-rise, high-density projects like 140 West, East 54 and the in-the-works Village Plaza multiply. Many believe Chapel Hill has sold its youthful, independent duds for a suit and tie, losing its distinctiveness in a wave of massive condo developments. And the cost of housing continues to be steep, despite some innovative efforts to implement an inclusionary-zoning ordinance that forces builders to set aside a portion of their development for affordable units.

In short, development, roused from its post-2008 slumber, is bursting, but what kind of development should the town pursue?

This year’s election has been marked by a polarizing debate over the town’s future, and many of the town’s biggest critics, supported by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town political action committee, make valuable points.

But it’s easier to criticize than to propose real solutions, and CHALT often does too much of one and not enough of the other.

Even so, there’s much to be said for the value of recruiting diverse voices to local leadership. Small-town governments, particularly ones with a dominant political party, can be monoliths where new ideas aren’t always welcome.

That’s one reason we’re endorsing Jessica Anderson for Town Council. A CHALT-backed candidate, Anderson has spent her career in education policy at the national and state level, but her campaign is not solely about schools. She would be a strong advocate for smart, environmentally friendly development that values Chapel Hill’s history as well as its future.

Michael Parker gets our second nod. Local government leadership is really about hard work and nuts-and-bolts innovation. Parker clearly has no problem with that. A member of the town’s Planning Commission and a board member of the Friends of Downtown and the Carrboro ArtsCenter, Parker is a career health care consultant who understands Chapel Hill’s greatest challenges: affordable housing and growth planning.

While we’ve endorsed two newcomers, we do not hold to the notion that the town has gone off the rails. Chapel Hill’s leaders have done much good—well-regarded public services, real commitments to affordable housing and the light-rail line come to mind.

That’s why we’re endorsing incumbents Donna Bell and Jim Ward for the remaining two seats. Bell, a social worker, cares deeply about affordable housing and preserving diversity. And Ward, a veteran councilman and curator at the N.C. Botanical Garden, is a solid progressive with institutional memory. Chapel Hill would not be well served by tossing out smart, capable leaders with experience and good values.

Perhaps the most difficult choice here is passing on Lee Storrow, a good man with passion and brains to spare. But his recent DWI arrest, in which his BAC was allegedly twice the legal limit, is troubling. Since his election in 2011, Storrow has been a strong voice for social equality and housing, and we do not believe a good person should be disregarded simply because of a mistake.

But we question whether Storrow, given his very public troubles, could be an effective champion of the very worthy causes before the council right now.


Bond Referenda

There’s no doubt that Orange County voters, particularly those who live in Chapel Hill, are heading for some serious bond fatigue. After Chapel Hill’s $40.3 million bond vote is completed next month, the county will be following suit with a $125 million bond for school infrastructure in 2016.

Nonetheless, we can get behind the priorities on the plate for Chapel Hill this year. This year’s five bond referenda will fund a laundry list of town needs, the biggest being $16.2 million in improvements for local streets and sidewalks. Trails, greenways and parks would absorb another $13 million, while about $11 million would be funneled to solid waste removal and stormwater enhancements.

Town officials say no tax increases will be required, although typical property owners can expect an increase in their stormwater fee of about $15 to $20 per year.

All of these are worthy spending needs in Chapel Hill, which is why we’ll vote yes on each referendum on the 2015 ballot.


Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education (4 seats open)

With two former Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education chairpersons, Mike Kelley and Jamezetta Bedford, not pursuing re-election, 2015 will be a year of great change and, naturally, great opportunity for the much-lauded district.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools boast a student population that scores highly on standardized testing, but children of wealthy, well-educated families often do. A high-five is not enough. This school system needs leaders who ask where schools have fallen short. Here’s a starting point: the persistent achievement gap between socioeconomic groups.

We are picking a slate of candidates we believe will lead a transparent, thoughtful march to erasing that gap. Thus, we are endorsing incumbent Annetta Streater as well as newcomers Theresa Watson, Rani Dasi and Pat Heinrich.

Streater is a veteran on the board, a dental hygienist who cites teacher recruiting and retention among her top goals. Indeed, teacher migration is a full-fledged crisis in North Carolina in 2015—thanks, General Assembly!—but we need leaders who really get why it’s so important for local school systems to brainstorm incentives for quality teachers. Streater does.

Dasi is a gifted newcomer who’s been heavily involved in local schools since she moved to Chapel Hill in 2007. She puts the achievement gap atop her priorities, and her background—which includes tutoring in inner-city Chicago and Cincinnati—indicates that she means it. Dasi also has a background as a financial analyst. With North Carolina public school funding becoming something of a shell game in the last decade, school boards need to be clever. We believe Dasi has the skills to play the game.

Watson is another great fit. She grew up in Chapel Hill and seems especially keen on interacting with all of the school system’s populations. Chapel Hill’s recent growth has drained some of its diversity, and we believe Watson understands how important it is for school leaders to be actively engaged with all segments of the community.

Heinrich gets our fourth and final nod. Heinrich is an IT consultant who, like Watson, extols the virtues of a more proactive board that reaches out to parts of the community that aren’t likely to reach out themselves. It’s a lingering problem that some of the communities most in need aren’t actively speaking with local leaders and vice versa. Be it organizational needs, time and money, or simply a loss of faith in politicians, the lines of communications are down. We need leaders who dispense with the formalities and reach out on their own. We think Heinrich will be one of them.