In a matter of years a community-based political organization has cemented its role in Chapel Hill politics. Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) endorsed Mayor Pam Hemminger as well as council members Jessica Anderson and Nancy Oates in the 2015 local elections.
Three out of four candidates CHALT endorsed won seats in town council elections two years ago, and CHALT will endorse candidates for the November elections.
“Turnout in municipal elections is always fairly low because it’s usually off-year (from the presidential election) but turnout jumped in that election and even the one candidate CHALT endorsed who lost, he still wound up winning more votes than most of the incumbents have won with,” CHALT member John Quinterno said.
Del Snow has served on several planning boards and task force committees for the town of Chapel Hill and her experience with town policy led her to become one of the founding members of CHALT.
“We used to have a thoughtful Council that weighed consequences and made decisions that were not harmful," Snow said. "And this new Council seemed very overly-friendly to developers where it was only their viewpoint that seemed to matter and nothing else seemed to carry much weight. That was the reason we started CHALT.”
Chapel Hill residents came together to form CHALT after they realized they had shared concerns about policies implemented by the Town Council. CHALT Founder Tom Henkel said these concerns were rooted in Town Council plans to develop the Ephesus-Fordham area.
“In 2014, the Council and Town Manager decided to go forward with something called the form-based code which would govern how development would be advanced in Ephesus-Fordham zone,” Henkel said. “A group of us took a look at this draft and found it lacking.”
Members have since created a set of goals that promote affordable housing for all socioeconomic statuses, a healthy and natural environment and more commercial and industrial tax revenue. John Quinterno said CHALT’s platform aims to address a wide range of problems in the town.
“Development is a key issue at the local level but there’s a whole set of broader issues that we need to think about that might be the nuts and bolts of government, and they matter,” he said.
CHALT’s key activities include endorsing candidates for Chapel Hill mayor and Town Council that support their goals as well as hosting forums to educate citizens on key issues in the town, such as affordable housing and development.
Henkel, who also serves as the CHALT treasurer, said they do not directly provide financial support for candidates they endorse.
“We have a PAC called the Chapel Hill Leadership Legal Action Committee and we’re raising money for activities that members of CHALT will undertake to support the candidates that we endorse,” he said. “We will do some advertising and we will prepare materials for door-to-door canvassing. The PAC will financially support all the efforts that CHALT will undertake to get our candidates elected.”
Four council members’ seats are open this November: Sally Greene, Maria Palmer, Ed Harrison, and George Cianciolo. Greene and Cianciolo have confirmed they will not run for re-election. Snow said having two seats without incumbents running creates an opportunity to elect a majority of CHALT-endorsed candidates in Town Council.
CHALT will determine which candidates they endorse for this year’s elections through interviews held from Sept. 17 to 19. They will select their candidates on Sept. 25.
Henkel said Hemminger wasn't able to to achieve as many goals in Chapel Hill without a majority of CHALT-endorsed candidates.
"That's the main thing we're looking for, to get new members of the Council that will go along with Pam's leadership," Henkel said.
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