Twenty years ago this week, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton made history when he won a seat on the Chapel Hill Town Council at age 21.
Chilton, who was re-elected Tuesday to a fourth term as Carrboro’s mayor after running unopposed, was the youngest elected official the state had ever seen at the time.
But as an undergraduate at UNC, he ran a competitive campaign for the Chapel Hill Town Council on a platform meant to appeal to both students and residents.
He said his work in environmental advocacy at UNC prompted him to enter the race.
“I got involved in local government when I was a student activist at UNC,” Chilton said. “And I was doing a lot of stuff that involved thinking globally but acting locally.”
Although still a student, Chilton had a mature view of town matters, said Kenneth Broun, who was mayor during Chilton’s time on the council.
“He was successful as a Chapel Hill Town Council member and has been successful as Carrboro’s mayor in large measure because he cares deeply about our community and both of its towns,” Broun said.
But Chilton said some Town Council members failed to take him seriously because of his age.
“At first it offended me,” said Chilton. “But now, with experience, I have come to realize that newly elected officials will get that sort of treatment no matter what.”
While on Town Council, Chilton had to balance the demands of being a student and an elected official at the same time.
On one hand, he opposed the severity of the punishment for an open-container ordinance the council implemented during his term. But at the same time, he said he focused on the environment more than representing students.
Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell said Chilton has had a significant impact on sustainability in both Carrboro and Chapel Hill.
Chilton said his first platform in Chapel Hill included a city-wide recycling program and building sidewalks and bikeways to encourage people to take to the streets.
“My first platform was a low-budget, grassroots movement,” he said.
As a council member, Chilton said he championed the town’s fare-free public transit system as an environmentally friendly way to get around town.
The system — which he cites as one of the town’s biggest changes since he joined local government — was implemented in January 2002, about five years after he left the council.
Two decades later, Chilton said his goals remain the same.
He said this will be his last term as mayor, but he will use it to improve Carrboro’s bikeway and greenway transportation.
And Haven-O’Donnell said she is looking forward to seeing what the leader can achieve with his last term.
“I am excited to see what he does next because he has the leadership and the experience to do more great things.”
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