The North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club announced endorsements Wednesday for Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s municipal elections.
The environmental organization endorsed five of the 12 candidates in Chapel Hill and four of the five candidates in Carrboro.
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The Sierra Club is the first major political organization to endorse Chapel Hill and Carrboro candidates this election cycle.
The state chapter of the Sierra Club chose to support Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who also won the endorsement in 2009. The group also endorsed incumbent candidates Donna Bell and Jim Ward and challengers Lee Storrow and Jason Baker.
The Sierra Club backed Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, the two Board of Aldermen incumbent candidates, Lydia Lavelle and Dan Coleman, and first-time candidate Michelle Johnson.
In a press release, the Sierra Club praised the endorsed candidates for their commitment to making Chapel Hill and Carrboro more environmentally friendly through increased mass transit options, water conservation efforts and other green initiatives.
In 2009, four of the five Chapel Hill candidates and all four of the Carrboro candidates endorsed by the Sierra Club won.
Olga Grlic, co-chair of the Orange-Chatham Group of the Sierra Club, said endorsing candidates is an extensive and time-consuming process.
The procedure begins with a thorough examination of candidates’ platforms, environmental track records, websites and media interviews before the club sits down for a half-hour interview with them, Grlic said.
“We study the candidates’ responses to our questions and their performances in our public forums,” she said.
The Orange-Chatham Group then discusses which candidates they should endorse before sending recommendations to the state chapter.
The state group verifies that the endorsements correspond to Sierra Club priorities, Grlic said.
Grlic said she thinks both the candidates and communities pay close attention to the Sierra Club endorsements.
“I have the impression that the candidates take them very seriously,” she said. “A lot of our residents have high expectations for the leadership in terms of environmental issues.”
Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, said while endorsements can play a role in municipal elections, they’re not always the deal maker.
Because local elections have low turnout, voters are more motivated and get their information from several sources, he said.
“A single endorsement won’t win you an election in local campaigns,” he said. “But if you can get numerous endorsements from diverse groups, that can start to make a difference.”
Circosta also said local elections are generally dominated by grassroots-level campaigning.
“Candidates in local elections have the chance to meet with so many voters that they can overcome endorsements from political and issue groups by reaching out to citizens directly.”
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