Orange County

Newcomers were big election night winners in Orange County’s town, school board races

Candidate Hongbin Gu, who celebrated with her supporters Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at the Red Lotus restaurant in Chapel Hill, will be the first Chinese-American member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.
Candidate Hongbin Gu, who celebrated with her supporters Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at the Red Lotus restaurant in Chapel Hill, will be the first Chinese-American member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Voters gave Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger two more years in office and ousted two incumbent Chapel Hill Town Council members Tuesday in favor of four challengers.

Roughly 17.5 percent of Orange County’s 80,168 registered, urban voters cast ballots this year.

Chapel Hill voters ousted council members Ed Harrison, who was first elected in 2001, and Maria Palmer, elected in 2013. They and council members George Cianciolo and Sally Greene, who decided not to seek re-election, will leave the board in December.

Election night’s big winner, Hongbin Gu, is a 22-year town resident who became the council’s first Chinese-American member with 6,116 votes. The victory was “beyond our wildest expectations,” said Gu, a quantitative researcher with UNC’s School of Medicine.

“It says something about about the community that we have,” she said of her victory. “I feel tremendously honored and just so happy.”

Voters also chose Karen Stegman, the director of business development for IntraHealth International; Allen Buansi, a Chapel Hill native and civil rights attorney; and Rachel Schaevitz, who leads the town’s American Legion Task Force, to round out the council spots.

All four were endorsed by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT). The group, which formed in 2015 to challenge the direction of town growth and development, previously helped to unseat Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and former council members Lee Storrow and Jim Ward.

Three members of a CHALT-endorsed slate replaced them – Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson and Hemminger.

Palmer also has been a CHALT target for her support of development projects and the form-based code approved in 2014 for the town’s Ephesus-Fordham (Blue Hill) district. The code lays out the guidelines for new buildings in the district and puts the authority to approve or reject projects in the hands of the town manager and the Community Design Commission.

Harrison was the only member of the 2014 Town Council to vote against the form-based code. Council member Donna Bell, the only remaining member who supported the form-based code, now will be the council’s longest-serving member at eight years.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger (center) celebrates with supporters at City Kitchen restaurant in University Place in Chapel Hill after being elected to a second term Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Bernard Thomas

Hemminger said Wednesday she looks forward to working with the council and sees “a bright future for Chapel Hill.” She talked Wednesday morning with newly minted Durham Mayor-elect Steve Schewel at a regional meeting about how their governments are facing similar changes.

“We’ve both got newer people and are trying to figure out how to make that work and get people up to speed,” Hemminger said. “But I think it’s also an opportunity to bring in new ideas and new perspectives, so I see some positives to it as well.”

Among other Orange County results Tuesday:


▪ Mayor: Incumbent Lydia Lavelle got 3,196 votes vs. 421 for her opponent, former Southern Rail owner Mike Benson

“You never want to take anything for granted, and when I knew I had an opponent, I wanted to be sure I ran a solid campaign,” Lavelle said. “I feel like we did that, and I feel like the voters of our community are happy with what we’ve been doing with the Board of Aldermen.”

▪ Board of Aldermen: Newcomer Barbara Foushee got 3,267 votes, followed by incumbents Jacquelyn Gist, Randee Haven-O’Donnell and Sammy Slade.

“I’m still trying to take it all in,” Foushee said. “Our campaign did a lot of work. We were high visibility from the beginning, we did a lot of canvassing, making voter contact, which I think was key. ... and being at the polls during early voting.”

Slade, as the fourth-highest vote-getter, will complete former Alderwoman Michelle Johnson’s term in office. Johnson resigned earlier this year to move out of state; her term expires in 2019.


Incumbent Mayor Tom Stevens easily won a seventh term Tuesday over his opponent Cindy Talisman. Town Board incumbents Kathleen Ferguson and Jennifer Weaver didn’t face any opposition in their bid for a second term.

“Things aren’t necessarily perfect (in Hillsborough), but we are headed in the right direction,” Stevens said after his victory. “This is a community that people who live here love, and people who visit here, they love it. There’s so many people who contribute to making Hillsborough such a wonderful place.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

Newcomers Amy Fowler – 9,486 votes – and Mary Ann Wolf – 8,719 votes – were elected Tuesday to the school board. Incumbent board member Joal Hall Broun and board Chairman James Barrett also were elected, finishing in third and fourth place, respectively.

Fowler, who celebrated at home Tuesday, credited her supporters with helping to get out the vote and said she is ecstatic about her victory.

“I’m ready to do the hard work,” she said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb