When Tai Huynh announced his campaign for Chapel Hill Town Council, many students and members of the community were surprised. Unlike the other candidates running for a position on the board, Huyhn is a student at UNC.
According to unofficial election results, Huynh secured just over 13 percent of the vote.
But Huynh isn't the first student to run for a seat on the town council. Chapel Hill has seen a number of current students and recent graduates run for positions in the local government over the years.
Gerry Cohen served on the town council from 1973 to 1979. At the same time, he was attending classes at the UNC School of Law.
“I was fairly well known for being on the town board, for working in politics, for having written for The Daily Tar Heel,” he said. “So I was pretty well-known in town.”
Cohen had been active in Chapel Hill’s politics for a while before his campaign and had a weekly column in the DTH. But despite all his local fame, Cohen said he didn't expect to win the election.
Cohen said he took campaigning seriously. As a result, he won the election, but he said the campaign took a toll on his personal life.
“Trying to balance school, and campaigning, and any sort of personal relationships is extremely difficult, and you can’t do all of it,” he said. “Right after I was elected, I took a semester off law school and made it up in the summers.”
Mark Chilton, who is now the register of deeds for Orange County, won a position on the town council in 1991 at the end of his junior year at UNC. At 21, he was the youngest official ever elected in North Carolina.
Chilton said he initially had some issues with the other council members because of the generational gap between them.
“There were a bunch of people on that board who were not just older than me but were also more senior in the sense that they had been there many years,” he said. “It was a little bit of a challenge to get some of them to take me seriously as a council member.”
Lee Storrow ran in 2011, following his June graduation from UNC. He said he had the voice to speak for students at UNC and bring the community together to solve common problems.
“I felt that there was an important moment to have the perspective of someone who understood the needs of students, who could reflect some of the concerns with student housing or the University,” he said.
Huynh said he has learned a lot from his contemporaries. Because they have been in his situation, they have helped guide him through the campaign, he said.
“Lee Storrow, and Gerry, and even Mark a little bit, all gave me advice on tips to do, things to do, places to be, events to make sure I'm at, people to make sure I reach out to, all those kinds of things," he said.
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