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Two mayors, two Town Councils and a school board: A look back at Orange County elections

Incumbent Pam Hemminger celebrates her victory on Tuesday. Hemminger was re-elected for mayor. This will be her 4th term.

Lying in the shadow of presidential and midterm races, odd-numbered years aren’t usually remembered for their elections. This year's municipal elections, though, may prove quite consequential for Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

There were five offices on the ballot in Chapel Hill and Carrboro — the mayor of Chapel Hill, the mayor of Carrboro, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Town Council and seats on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.

Perhaps the most prominent of all of these races was that for the mayoral seat in Chapel Hill, a campaign that saw incumbent Pam Hemminger win her fourth term in office after defeating Chapel Hill Town Council member Hongbin Gu and UNC graduate student Zachary Boyce.

Hemminger's platform featured proposals for affordable housing, climate action and economic recovery.

“I’m just very grateful for an amazing team, a supportive family, dedicated supporters and the voters of Chapel Hill," Hemminger said at her election results watch party on Nov. 2. "And we will keep moving forward together.”

Hemminger earned about 60.7 percent of the vote compared to Gu’s 36.6 percent and Boyce’s 2.5 percent.

In Carrboro, current Town Council member Damon Seils won the mayoral seat in decisive fashion, earning 90.3 percent of the vote compared to the nine percent earned by his challenger, local business owner Michael Benson.

Seils chose to run after current mayor Lydia Lavelle announced on May 26 that she would be leaving office at the end of her term. 

One of Seils' top priorities in his 2021 campaign was a focus on economic recovery, helping small businesses cope with losses incurred over the past year and helping to support individuals throughout the community.

“We've been working really hard over the last 18 months in Carrboro to support folks through direct financial assistance for housing and rental payments and trying to avert an addiction crisis,” Seils said. “We've just announced a big grant program for local businesses in Carrboro, so I think focusing on those kinds of recovery efforts will be a top priority.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council race saw three newcomers — Camille Berry, Paris Miller-Foushee and Adam Searing — secure seats, alongside incumbent council member Karen Stegman. Two of them, Berry and Miller-Foushee, are women of color.

Some candidates, such as Searing, focused on environmental initiatives and recreation in their platforms. Others, including Berry and Miller-Foushee, placed a special emphasis on affordable housing.

“It's going to be an honor to serve this community, and I'm really looking forward to helping to advance a more equitable, environmentally just, safe and affordable Chapel Hill that's in the reach of everyone,” Miller-Foushee said.

Barbara Foushee, Danny Nowell and Randee Haven-O’Donnell won the three seats up for grabs on Carrboro’s Town Council.

Foushee and Haven-O’Donnell are incumbents to the council, while Nowell is a newcomer who was endorsed by the NC Triangle Democratic Socialists of America.

Carrboro Town Council incumbent Jacquelyn Gist, who was first elected in 1989, notably did not win reelection. She lost her seat by 242 votes.

The race for the three seats open on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education was far less of a contest.

George Griffin, Riza Jenkins and Mike Sharp were all easily elected as newcomers to the board. They said they would address the opportunity gap that students in the school district face and will aim to implement more equitable policies upon taking their place on the board.

Though there may not have been big-ticket offices on the ballot, the 2021 election cycle will surely shape the local landscape in Chapel Hill and Carrboro for years to come.


@DTHCityState | 

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