Five candidates are vying for three seats in the Nov. 2 Carrboro Town Council election: Incumbents Barbara Foushee, Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell and newcomers Aja Kelleher and Danny Nowell.
Council member Gist, who was first elected in 1989, said she has played an important role in initiating many of the institutions Carrboro values. For example, she said she introduced the first anti-LGBTQ discrimination policy and implemented the Truth Plaque Community Task Force.
Gist said her adoration for Carrboro and her experience serving the town motivated her to run for reelection. She said she feels that the town is soon to enter a period of renewal — as it is set to elect a new mayor and manager — and has trust in her ability to contribute knowledge and be a stable figure in the community.
“I think one thing that I’m good at is helping to bring together divergent views to come up with solutions to meet many of our needs,” Gist said. “Over time, the actual issue of the day changes but the need to come together to address those issues always stays the same.”
She hopes to continue her efforts of creating affordable housing opportunities, beautifying and improving downtown and pursuing equity and inclusion.
Council member Haven-O’Donnell was first elected in 2005. A career educator, they ran for the position after being recruited by former Carrboro mayor and state senator Eleanor Kinnaird. Haven-O’Donnell said they consider themself an avid community activist and organizer.
In office, Haven-O'Donnell said the challenges of today, including climate change and the "existential crisis" of democracy, demand experience and know-how. Haven-O'Donnell said they are motivated to run again because the Carrboro Town Council has made progress in its work for the community.
“I understand what my role and my contribution is," Haven-O'Donnell said. "And I am strong for community and community trusts in me to be there for them."
Haven-O'Donnell hopes to continue with representing community priorities, including racial equity and community safety. They played a role in the establishment of the racial equity initiative in Carrboro with the aid of fellow council member Foushee. Haven-O'Donnell said they also serve on a sub-committee that plans to launch a community safety task force.
Council member Foushee, first elected in 2017, joins Gist and Haven-O’Donnell in defending her current seat this election. She also currently serves as the mayor pro tem of Carrboro.
Foushee has a clear goal in running again — to continue the work she's been doing in office.
She said the most important focus of her time in office has been working toward the inclusion of more diverse opinions in problem-solving, which she believes will yield more sustainable solutions. As the only Black member of the council, she believes her experiences contribute to her ability to amplify underrepresented voices.
“I want to keep a seat at the table,” Foushee said. “We want our boards to be reflective of the communities that they serve.”
Foushee said she feels she has a lot more work to do after her first term adjusting to life in-office. This work includes planning and zoning for affordable housing as well as continuing to support individuals and local businesses through the pandemic.
Aja Kelleher enters the race as a newcomer to politics. She said many of her neighbors and friends in the community feel the town is unresponsive to some of their needs. Initially, she said she was hesitant to enter the race due to her busy schedule, but was urged by others to run and evoke change.
Kelleher, if elected, hopes to search for solutions for traffic problems and storm-water flooding issues in Carrboro. She's also running with intentions to improve infrastructure, value the voices of citizens and return to the basics of democracy.
“If you don’t have any challengers in the race, everyone inherits their seats on the council,” Kelleher said. “My goal is to challenge the Town Council in doing better on improving and listening to the constituents.”
Nowell also enters the race as a new face on the political scene and is endorsed by the NC Triangle Democratic Socialists of America.
As a North Carolina native and UNC graduate, Carrboro has long appealed to Nowell as a place to settle and raise a family. However, he and his wife had difficulty finding a home and establishing themselves in the town.
Once settled as a resident, he felt compelled to transform Carrboro into a place more accessible for working people.
“I want to make sure that as many families as possible can move to Carrboro, build equity in Carrboro, have a family life in Carrboro and do the things that I associate with this vibrant, wonderful community,” Nowell said.
With this intention, Nowell hopes to push for more affordable housing and less car dependence. He also hopes to engage with the community on these efforts.
Voter registration ends Friday, Oct. 8 for the election. For more information, visit www.orangecountync.gov.