The upcoming municipal election is officially a nonpartisan affair, but town officials and candidates say political parties continue to exert their influence in Chapel Hill.
On election ballots, candidates won’t have their party affiliation listed next to their name. And Chapel Hill Town Council member Matt Czajkowski, who is running for re-election, said party politics should have no place in municipal elections because local issues are much more specific.
“The whole premise is that national platforms don’t have a lot of relevance to the issues in town,” he said. “Whether you’re Democrat, Republican or unaffiliated, the candidates should be evaluated on positions they take specific to our town.”
But this doesn’t stop residents from educating themselves about each candidate’s political affiliations, said Robert Randall, director of the Orange County Republican Party.
“In southern Orange County, voters are pretty diehard socialist liberals and they do their research,” he said. “Once they find out who the conservative is, they vote him out.”
As of October 2010, 52 percent of all registered voters in Orange County were Democrats, while 18 percent were Republicans and 29 percent were unaffiliated.
Matt Hughes, first vice chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said parties endorse candidates to educate the public about who is running.
“Our identification implies what views they may hold in local elections,” Hughes said. “Fostering local economy and local environment, those issues are rooted in party affiliation.”
Czajkowski said he was disappointed in the Orange County Democrats’ 2011 endorsements.
“Why do they endorse 6 Democrats and not me?” Czajkowski said. “Being unaffiliated is not good enough. If you’re not a party member, they can’t claim a win if you’re elected.”
Augustus Cho, who is the only Republican running for Chapel Hill Town Council, also said he does not like to see party affiliations tied into local nonpartisan elections.
Cho said media and blog websites often place a party label with a candidate.
“As much as a candidate such as myself tries to be nonpartisan, it makes it difficult when blogs or media coverage focuses on party affiliation,” he said.
Council member Penny Rich said she believes the election is still a fair race and the high prevalence of Democratic officials and candidates reflects that Orange County is a naturally liberal county.
She attributed the lopsided party ratio to the fact that the University attracts progressive thinkers to the area.
Rich said that in the end, people will vote for what they think is right.
“I think it has to do with your personality and what you’re fighting for in the town,” Rich said. “You feel comfortable with people who think the same way as you do.”
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