Tai Huynh, a junior computer science major and Morehead-Cain scholar at UNC, is running for Chapel Hill Town Council this fall.
Huynh is a first-generation American whose parents are refugees from Vietnam. He moved to Indian Trail, North Carolina as an eighth grader, and plans to stay in the Chapel Hill community post-graduation.
He made the decision to run for the position over Thanksgiving break. He had been involved in working with the local community for some time before that, though.
Huynh said inequities in the community drove him to run.
“I think that’s just a huge opportunity, where we can make a really big impact and improve the life and standards of living for a lot of the residents of our community,” Huynh said. “It’s just not being pursued as aggressively as I think it should be.”
Other issues Huynh is focused on are affordable housing, environmental sustainability and general inclusivity.
As a sophomore, he began Acta Solutions, a software building business to help local governments engage citizens more efficiently and to make more data-driven decisions.
Pavani Peri, another Morehead-Cain scholar, said she has worked with Huynh at Acta.
“I know that he will take the time to listen to people and really run his policy platform by multiple people and populations in the community and change them as necessary,” Peri said.
Huynh is the fourth UNC student to campaign for Chapel Hill Town Council since the voting age was brought down in 1971, and is hoping to be the third student elected to a position on the Council.
One of the biggest challenges facing Huynh and that his predecessors have faced in running for Town Council is being taken seriously as a student candidate.
Gerry Cohen, a triple UNC graduate, was the first student to serve on the Town Council from 1973 to 1979, winning the election while at the UNC School of Law.
Cohen said the key ways to establish credibility as a student candidate are going to community group meetings and candidate forums, maintaining involvement in the community and motivating students.
Still, Cohen said Huynh’s decision to run is special.
“It’s like once in a generation,” Cohen said. “The last time a student ran for office, (UNC's) first-years weren’t even in kindergarten yet.”
The other student who ran a successful Town Council campaign was Mark Chilton, who later served as Carrboro mayor and is now the register of deeds for Orange County.
Peri also mentioned Huynh's involvement with the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), where she said he has worked to further community engagement and close the feedback loop between local government and residents.
“I think the big thing for him is raising awareness of these opportunities on campus in Chapel Hill,” she said. “So understanding how students can better interact with the RENA community or Northside or understanding all these different dynamics of play, and realizing there’s a need here and there’s a way to give back to a community that has given so much to us.”
Huynh said his campaign is having its kickoff event on May 6 at 7 p.m. in 1789 Venture Labs on Franklin Street.
“We would love to have a solid student turnout, we’re hoping to have community leaders, students, UNC administrative leaders there as well,” Huynh said. “I look forward to serving the Chapel Hill community in the years to come.”
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