Chapel Hill is no stranger to presidential campaigns.
President Barack Obama visited UNC's campus in 2016 to campaign for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders hosted a rally outside of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center in fall 2019.
The trend continued Tuesday when Tim O’Brien, senior adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, visited the campaign’s newly-opened Chapel Hill office to discuss policy and strategy with supporters.
O’Brien briefly spoke about Bloomberg broadly and what his campaign is about, focusing on his differences and opposition to many of President Donald Trump’s actions and policies, as well as highlighting their differences in upbringing and career despite their obvious similarities as billionaires from New York.
Most of the afternoon “strategy session,” however, focused on a question and answer session that involved asking members of the community about Bloomberg’s image in Chapel Hill, Durham and North Carolina as a whole. Many of the questions related to Bloomberg’s time as mayor of New York City and how some of his past policies, particularly stop-and-frisk, are red flags for community members.
“I think he’ll keep apologizing for stop-and-frisk,” O’Brien noted. “It was a horrendous policy.”
Community members also brought up allegations of sexual harassment against the former mayor and how that impacts his image with women, him not participating in debates and his image as a billionaire and how that relates to voters’ perception of him.
Besides Bloomberg supporters and Democratic political organizers, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Chapel Hill Town Council member Hongbin Gu attended.
Gu spoke specifically about how Bloomberg's previous policies, specifically stop-and-frisk, were perceived within the African American community. After learning more about his current initiatives, however, she sees a path to repair that relationship.
“I was very impressed,” she said of the information she received from the campaign.
Hemminger was not there as an endorsement of Bloomberg, but stressed that it was a good opportunity for she and the community to be involved in the political process, saying “It’s always exciting when a presidential candidate wants to come to your small college town.”
Ultimately, Hemminger isn’t going to publicly endorse any candidate and said that what’s most important is community involvement.
“I want people to make their own choices," she said. "I do want them to come out and vote.”
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