Pam Hemminger personifies the shift in Chapel Hill voters’ minds. She won the November 3rd election with 53.8 percent of the vote, taking the possibility of a fourth term away from Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.
This was the first time in five decades an incumbent mayor was defeated in an election in Chapel Hill.
On entering the race, Hemminger pointed to the Rogers Road Community Center she helped build as an Orange County Commissioner.
“I entered the race because of a lack of commitment to the Rogers Road Community Center,” she said. Rogers Road hosted the town landfill for more than four decades, and when Chapel Hill failed to pay its part in the community center, Hemminger and other commissioners had to find the funding.
But what ultimately won this election for Hemminger was not just the Rogers Road controversy but the overall dissatisfaction some segments of the town had about how the town government was handling new development.
Obey Creek, Ephesus Fordham, Amity Station and others are all development projects critics accused the incumbent Town Council of pushing over local dissent.
On the Ephesus Fordham project, Hemminger said it was a “great idea, bad implementation. (The Town Council) didn’t pay attention to the details. They didn’t consider urban design. The project could’ve been awesome. But now it doesn’t include affordable housing or environmental standards.”
On her first steps as mayor, Hemminger has been lacking in offering specific policy changes. Instead, she has said she will start by hosting town meetings.
Hemminger hopes to find these meetings advantageous because even though she defeated an incumbent in a close election, she doesn’t necessarily have a mandate from the voters.
“The one thing about these council elections, it was 15 percent turnout in Orange County. It only takes a few people to turn out to change these elections,” said Jason Roberts, a professor of political science at UNC.
Despite losing the mayorship, Kleinschmidt was grateful for the town and its residents.
“During my time as mayor, we were able to harness the voices of over 10,000 people who love this town. Thank you all for the greatest gift I could have received in my life in being the mayor of this town,” he said in November.