The evening of Nov. 3, results for the mayoral race were pouring in from Chapel Hill’s precincts. Even before that, Kleinschmidt didn’t have the same confidence he’d had in his two previous elections, amid two opponents and opposition to recently approved development.
Results were getting tighter as incumbent Kleinschmidt and his aide Jeff DeLuca headed to The Crunkleton around 7:30 p.m.
“We knew pretty immediately that we were in trouble,” DeLuca said.
As it became clear that there wasn’t a path to reelection in the results, Kleinschmidt was disappointed, and he still is.
“I see the need to continue for a couple more years, to keep us on a path that’s sustainable and resilient,” he said.
But he’s also proud of everything he’s been a part of since he arrived in Chapel Hill in 1988.
‘This was home’
Kleinschmidt grew up without a hometown, moving from Illinois to Hawaii to New Mexico to Goldsboro, N.C., with a military family. Then he came to UNC.
“This was the first place I lived where there was an actual community of people who helped to really define who I am, what my values are,” he said.
After graduation, Kleinschmidt taught high school civics in Charlotte, but always knew he would come back. When he did, it was as a UNC law student.
“This was home,” he said.
Kleinschmidt worked as an attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham before joining the Tin Fulton Walker & Owen firm in Chapel Hill in 2012.
He’s still representing the same client, a defendant on North Carolina’s death row, that he took on after he graduated from law school in 2000 — the same year he decided to run for Chapel Hill Town Council.
At that point, the memory of living in a Glen Lennox apartment as a law student and scraping together three quarters from under couch cushions to ride the bus to campus was still fresh in his mind.
Fare-free public transit and other transportation issues were what interested him in public service, and those interests expanded to improving the Ephesus-Fordham intersection and shopping center, and the Orange County light rail.
“If it’s 10 years from now, I’ll get on it and ride it,” he said.
A mayor and a friend
DeLuca first met Kleinschmidt when he spent a rainy Saturday in September 2009 knocking on doors with the future mayor as part of his campaign team.
“He was really cool,” DeLuca said. “Energetic, but also very normal. He didn’t strike me as a lot of the politicians that I had encountered in (my home state of) Florida. I never felt like he was trying to prove anything to me.”
It was easy to become friends with Kleinschmidt, DeLuca said, and he could always count on him for support when he became a student activist in the organization now known as the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.
“He would always take my call, and I knew that he would do that with any student leader,” DeLuca said.
Diana Dayal, a UNC senior and director of state and external affairs for student government, has worked with Kleinschmidt to promote student voter turnout.
“He is exceptionally friendly, charming and full of energy and passion for his work,” Dayal said in an email.
She said he’s independently built relationships with every student body president and many campus leaders during his term, and helped meet student needs as a mayor, from accessible polling locations for students to fare-free public transit.
Life after office
On Thursday, his first day out of office, Kleinschmidt will visit one of his legal clients in prison in the eastern part of the state. He’ll begin to refocus his life in the next year, he said. He’ll get back the time he’s sacrificed to his “full-time, part-time” job and put it into what’s important to him — his work as an attorney, and his family.
“Those things have taken a hit, because there’s always something to do,” he said.
Still, everything coming to a hard stop in two days is disconcerting, he said, and he doesn’t think his involvement will end along with his term.
“When I tell people that I’m still going to be involved in the community, I know it’s true because I won’t be able to help it, you know?” Kleinschmidt said.