Orange County

Mayoral candidates Hemminger, Farrar lay out competing visions for Chapel Hill future

Early voting begins Thursday, Oct. 19, for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board and municipal races in Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Early voting begins Thursday, Oct. 19, for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board and municipal races in Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7. File photo

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, coming off a heated 2015 campaign to unseat the town’s former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, expected an easy re-election when no one came out to oppose her this summer.

But inspired by a different vision for the town, former Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president Eugene Farrar announced in September that he would run a write-in campaign for mayor. Write-in candidates for municipal elections only have to file their candidacy with the county board of elections.

Farrar is a Chapel Hill native who retired from the town’s Public Works Department and has made leadership on social justice issues, like the debate over moving UNC’s Confederate Silent Sam memorial statue, a centerpiece of his candidacy.

Hemminger, on the other hand, has lived in Chapel Hill for 31 years and owns a local commercial real estate company. She has been active on multiple nonprofit and government boards, including the Orange County Board of Commissioners and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board.

Voters will decide between them on Tuesday, Nov. 7, and also choose from seven candidates to fill four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council. Early voting in Orange County’s municipal and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board races begins Thursday, Oct. 19.

Here’s how Farrar and Hemminger responded to our questions:

What leadership skills or experience will be most helpful to you if elected?

Eugene Farrar
Eugene Farrar

Eugene Farrar: My experience as someone born poor in Chapel Hill and who has seen the town change over my lifetime has led me to understand that everyone of us is interconnected and that leadership is more about listening than it is about talking. It is about understanding other people and de-escalating potential conflict rather than ignoring it or escalating it. It is having empathy for people and their struggles to live a good life.

For example, I was out putting out my campaign signs and one of Chapel Hill’s finest stopped and asked if he or she could help. I took that as a sincere request, as I am sure it was, but, as an African-American male, I also know that police and African-American interactions are a flashpoint in our society. I said yes and took the opportunity to explain my campaign. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but he or she went away with several of my campaign signs. This is what I consider leadership and would bring to town government.

Pam Hemminger: As a 31-year Chapel Hill resident and owner of a local commercial office company, I have a unique combination of business, government and nonprofit leadership experience to bring to my work as mayor.

I’ve also held several elected positions, including chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board and vice chair of the Board of County Commissioners, and have served as a member of several not-for-profit boards, including Habitat for Humanity and Triangle Land Conservancy.

What was a mistake that you learned from and how do you think that will help you if elected?

Eugene Farrar: When I was growing up, I didn’t appreciate the importance of schooling. I loved to play football, basketball, baseball and track but not to study. Once I graduated from high school, however, I discovered its importance and went to community college, where I studied political science, Afro-American history, sociology and public speaking.

Through this experience, I learned more about people and interacting with them, but most of all, I learned about the importance of education. I will bring that respect for the importance of education to town government and work to enrich the lives of both children and adults by providing more adult education opportunities and making the library’s fine children’s program available throughout the city.

Pam Hemminger

Pam Hemminger: In hindsight, I’d have changed the way we shared information about the Wegmans grocery incentive program with the public.

The confidentiality required for the three-party negotiations combined with our sudden announcement of the plan meant that some community members felt they hadn’t been given enough time to review the issue. Even after the council meeting, many still had questions.

Recognizing this, we made it a priority to offer more complete information about the Wegmans plan in subsequent meetings. We have also taken steps to provide information to the public on every issue in a more thorough and timely manner.

What is the town’s biggest challenge and how would you address it?

Eugene Farrar: I believe that the town’s biggest challenge is to knit all of its people together into a truly vibrant community regardless of their economic status or their racial identity, whether it be black, Asian, Mexican, American Indian or white. For too long, Chapel Hill has been two towns, and it’s becoming one city because the middle and the poor are being forced out of the city.

I would bring the town together by enabling people of all races and colors to live here together in peace and justice by capping property taxes for long-term residents and by bringing affordable housing to the city. I would do so in an open process that seeks the input of everyone and not just developers. I would work to provide opportunities for all of our children to learn a good trade if they did not want to go to college immediately.

Pam Hemminger: Chapel Hill’s biggest challenge is to improve the fiscal sustainability of our town while living up to our community values.

As mayor, I have focused on two important efforts: growing our tax base and making better decisions. Doing both is key to giving us the resources we need to achieve our social and environmental priorities without overburdening our residential taxpayers.

First, diversifying and increasing our tax base will provide the revenue we need for the things we want, including:

▪ Affordable housing units

▪ Community space for teens

▪ More Parks and Rec and greenways facilities

▪ Additional offerings and space for arts and cultural activities

Second, improving our budgeting and decision-making processes will make the money generated by that new economic activity go farther.

I’ve championed many changes in my first term that have allowed us to better leverage our resources, from ensuring that council has more complete information before our meetings, to planning more strategically, to taking a fresh look at our budgeting practices.

This effort is already producing results, including the town’s purchase of the American Legion property, approval of a new light industrial enterprise zone, and creation of our first Strategic Affordable Housing Plan.

I’m confident that this two-part approach will improve the financial stability of our town and the quality of life for the people who live, work, play, and learn here now and in the future.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Quick answers

Do you support giving development in the rural buffer another look?

Eugene Farrar: No

Pam Hemminger: No

Do you support economic incentives to attract businesses?

Eugene Farrar: No

Pam Hemminger: Yes

Is the town doing enough about stormwater and flooding?

Eugene Farrar: No

Pam Hemminger: No. I am interested in implementing programs and providing more education to residents about how they can help reduce runoff – such as disconnecting downspouts, using spreaders and reducing nutrients (fertilizers) from their own properties – similar to what Durham has done with Ellerbee Creek neighborhoods.

Early Voting information

One-Stop Early voting in the Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough municipal races and in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board election begins Thursday, Oct. 19. The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Eligible citizens can register and vote during the early voting period with an approved identification, such as a bank statement, drivers license or utility bill, showing their name and current address.

All early voting sites will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 31. Otherwise, the following polls will be open:

▪ Board of Elections, 208 S. Cameron St., Hillsborough

Thursday-Friday, Oct. 19-20, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,

Monday-Friday, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturdays, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

▪ Carrboro Town Hall, 301 W. Main St., Carrboro

Monday-Friday, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturdays, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

▪ Chapel of the Cross, 304 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

Monday-Friday, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30-Nov. 3, noon to 7 p.m.

Not open Saturday, Oct. 28, because of UNC football game

Saturday, Nov. 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

▪ Seymour Senior Center, 2551 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill

Monday-Friday, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30-Nov. 3, noon to 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 28, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.