Strategists ponder Kleinschmidt’s political future

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Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spoke at an election party last week. Kleinschmidt said he could not imagine holding a higher political office.

When Chapel Hill’s Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was re-elected for his third term last week, Vice President Joe Biden personally called to congratulate him.

And now there is speculation about Kleinschmidt’s next move — and his potential to run for a higher office.

Rob Schofield, policy director at the left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch, said he would be shocked if Kleinschmidt did not aspire to higher office.

“He’s smart, well-spoken and telegenic,” he said. “But like other progressive politicians from Chapel Hill, he clearly faces some challenges reaching out to a broader constituency.”

Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and an expert on Southern politics, said recent political activity at the nation’s Capitol has refocused attention on local politicians who are more engaged with their constituency.

“In light of the stalemate in Washington, D.C., there has been renewed attention on governors and mayors who can get things done,” Guillory said.

“This mayor does not have to contend with as much opposition as others, but both political parties will be looking toward emerging leaders on the local level.”

Gary Pearce, a Democratic state political consultant, said he’s not sure if North Carolina is prepared to elect an openly gay man like Kleinschmidt to a higher position.

“In time, it will not be difficult for someone openly gay to be elected to statewide office,” Pearce said.

“Times are changing fast, but there is still prejudice.”

Guillory also said it would be difficult for Kleinschmidt to hold a position in the state Capitol, such as state senator or state representative, because the legislature is currently majority Republican.

But Kleinschmidt said he could not imagine having a higher position than being the mayor of Chapel Hill.

“It’s such a gift that I’ve been given,” he said. “I love this town so much. I’m so honored to continue to be here for at least a couple more years.”

Kleinschmidt was one of 10 mayors in the nation to receive calls from Biden on election night.

Kleinschmidt said Biden’s call showed the significance of local politics in upcoming national elections.

“He talked about how important cities are and how they move our country forward,” Kleinschmidt said. “He said he knew this is where the rubber hits the road as far as policies go.”

Pearce said he was not surprised by Biden’s call to Kleinschmidt.

“The vice president is obviously courting elected officials around the country so that he can run for president,” he said. “North Carolina is a key primary state, and that’s why he made the call.”

For now, Kleinschmidt said he wants to continue emphasizing how local politics can shape the lives of all residents.

He said he is spending the beginning of his new term focusing on local projects, specifically an initiative focused on improving youth services called Chapel Hill 4 YOUth , and completing the design of the Ephesus Church area to inspire quality redevelopment.

“I don’t know if there will be a remarkable change in my life,” he said.

“All kinds of things can happen, but I just look forward to being the mayor of Chapel Hill again.”

city@dailytarheel.com

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