A Post Office mistake returned mail and possible donations for a Town Council candidate back to their senders, a Postal Service spokesman said Monday.
Hongbin Gu, one of seven candidates seeking four council seats in Tuesday’s election, heard last week that donations and mail being sent to her campaign’s U.S. Post Office box in the last two weeks was returned to the senders. The information prompted Gu’s supporters to speculate on social media this weekend that someone may have gone to the Post Office on Estes Drive to intentionally close the mailbox.
Gu contacted the Post Office on Monday and confirmed that the campaign had rented the mailbox through January. Post Office officials told her an employee had mistakenly posted a note on the mailbox that it was closed. Only postal workers can access the area where the note was posted, she said.
“He has no idea who put it there or why it was put there. He said that it’s a mistake by someone in the office,” she said. “I asked him if there’s any possibility that someone had done that intentionally. He said he has no evidence for that, and he doesn’t believe that anyone among his workers would intentionally do that.”
She was promised an official letter from the Post Office explaining the mistake, Gu said.
The USPS website explains that a customer can register a P.O. box online but has to present two forms of identification – one with a photo – at the post office to get the mailbox keys and address. A customer must turn in the keys and submit a change of address form to close a P.O. Box, a postal worker explained Monday. The post office also would want to see a driver’s license, he said.
A U.S. Postal Service spokesman issued a statement Monday afternoon.
“A rented PO Box was mistakenly closed by the Chapel Hill Post Office, and all mail sent to the PO Box was marked returned to sender,” spokesman Philip Bogenberger said. “When the error was noticed, it was immediately corrected and the PO Box is accepting mail. We apologize to Ms. Gu for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
Gu said the incident was “a very, very strange situation.” Her campaign also has faced social media criticism of her immigrant background and the theft of over 100 campaign signs this fall.
While many candidates’ campaign signs have been stolen in previous local elections, Gu’s campaign problems prompted Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue to issue a statement reminding the public that it is illegal to tamper with campaign signs.
Gu said her biggest concern is how the Post Office mistake might affect voters who only recently got to know her.
“The people that we just won over or we just built a connection with, that mutual trust is so important,” she said. “For this thing to happen can make them question whether or not I’m trying to distance myself from them, so I’m just doing all I can to explain to (them) that it’s definitely not my intention.”