Controversy arose during a Chapel Hill Town Council candidates forum last week when a former mayor challenged a candidate from the audience.
In an interview, candidate Rachel Schaevitz said she was sharing her concerns about the impact the Berkshire Chapel Hill, a luxury apartment building on South Elliot Road, has had on neighboring, local businesses.
The Berkshire was the first project approved in the town’s Blue Hill (formerly Ephesus Fordham) district, a decades-old, largely one-story commercial area where former Town Council members created specific rules to spur redevelopment.
Schaevitz told the forum audience about her recent visit to the Great Harvest Bread Company in the district, where she spoke with owners Jeff and Cathy Bailey.
“After the apartments’ construction began, Jeff and Cathy said their business had fallen off,” she told the audience.
“That is not true,” former Chapel Hill mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called out from the audience.
Schaevitz said she could not immediately discern who had made the comment, but she defended herself and referring to Jeff Bailey a second time, said, “I said, ‘I walked into his shop and he told me from his own mouth.’ That’s when I heard it again.”
Kleinschmidt, a three-time mayor who lost his bid for a fourth term in 2015 and has been blamed by some critics for changes to the district, allegedly repeated his statement a second time: “That is not true!”
“I guess my adrenaline picked up,” Schaevitz said. “And I said, ‘Are you heckling me, from the back row?’ ”
She learned who had spoken by the time the forum concluded, Schaevitz said. In her closing statement, she invited those who “clearly” disagreed with her to come up, meet her and discuss town issues.
“I waited, but no one came over to talk,” she said.
On Tuesday Jeff Baily said Schaevitz did visit his store to ask about the Bread Company’s recent business.
“I told her that I think in the long-term the new building will be a positive for business, but we have lost business in the the short-term,” he said. “It was a simple question. I answered honestly.”
Conversations about the incident continued on social media after the forum.
“Today’s winner of the Chapel Hill mean girl award is former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. … This is not OK,” Lisa Kaylie, a local resident, wrote on her Facebook page.
The post, which drew comments from over 30 people, continued: “Mark is not alone. There is a group here in our little town that enjoys bullying people. ... They make things personal and then hide behind a very thin veneer of ‘social justice.’ ”
An attempt to reach Kleinschmidt for comment Monday was unsuccessful, but he apologized for his interruption on his Facebook page after the forum.
“It’s always the right time to do the right thing, and this is one of those times,” he wrote. “I need to apologize. Last night I attended a candidates’ forum and did something that I hate myself for doing.”
Kleinschmidt wrote that he allowed his “passion” to “get the best” of his self-control.
“It was wholly inappropriate and I sincerely regret both my behavior and any impact it may have had on the candidates, the forum organizers, and the others in attendance,” Kleinschmidt wrote.
The former mayor’s post has received over 125 “Likes” and has been commented on more than 40 times.