Orange County

Former NAACP leader to challenge Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger

Mayor Pam Hemminger didn’t expect a challenging race to re-election this year, since no one else filed for her seat.

But Eugene Farrar, a town native and former Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president, wants voters to write in his name instead. A victory on Election Day, Nov. 7, would make him only the second African-American mayor in Chapel Hill since former Mayor Howard Lee was elected in 1969.

Hemminger has talked with Farrar about his campaign and welcomes the challenge, she said. Write-in candidates for municipal elections only have to file their candidacy with the county board of elections. They do not have to get people to sign petitions or donate to their campaigns to be qualified.

“It’s always good for people to have choices,” Hemminger said. “I’m hoping that people will be pleased with the direction I’ve taken us in the last 21 months and be willing to continue to support that.”

Farrar said others have encouraged him to run for a long time. He doesn’t think Hemminger has led on social-justice issues, like the debate over moving UNC’s Confederate statue Silent Sam, he said, and he has a different vision for how the town should be managed.

“The present mayor sent a letter to (Chancellor) Folt, but she did it after the crisis in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Farrar said. “But Silent Sam has been sitting there since 1913, so why do we have to have a tragedy somewhere else or a crisis somewhere else for this government to act? (The town) should be proactive.”

Farrar, who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, is a retired Chapel Hill Public Works employee and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools custodian. At 74, he still lives in the house off North Estes Drive where he said his parents raised nine children on poverty wages.

The surrounding land is largely undeveloped, but not for long, Farrar said. A retirement community is in progress across Estes Drive, the Carolina North campus lies just around the corner, and more projects are planned.

Chapel Hill is growing too fast without concern for what citizens want, he said.

The current leadership is “trying to make it into an urban city and getting away from the village that it used to be when I was growing up,” Farrar said. “I believe in change, I believe in economic development, but when contractors are coming in, paving the direction for Chapel Hill to go, I’ve got a problem with that.”

His vision limits downtown buildings to six stories, replaces existing parking lots with parking decks, and gives business owners a greater voice, Farrar said.

He also wants to address public safety by filling nearly two dozen Police Department vacancies and letting officers drive their patrol cars home, he said. Smaller houses would provide more affordable options and save green spaces, and a property tax cap would help older residents stay in their homes.

“We understand (the town is) going to grow, but at the same time, I’m not for all these tall buildings going up downtown, and half of them are half empty,” Farrar said. “If you’re going to put them up, put them up and make them affordable for the police department, fire department, doctors and nurses to live here.”

Advisory boards could help find creative ideas for meeting business, citizen and preservation goals, he added.

“When you don’t have people at the table and you’re making decisions that impact their lives, that’s not being transparent at all. You’re just using your privilege and authority to make decisions for them,” he said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Meet the candidate

Name: Eugene Farrar

Age: 74

Address: North Estes Drive, Chapel Hill


Family: Single, with 4 children, 12 grandchildren

Work experience: Retired public works employee; Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools custodian

Elected offices held: Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president

Community experience: Parks and Recreation Commission; Personnel Appeals Committee