Chapel Hill and Carrboro voters returned almost all the incumbents to their town boards Tuesday night, along with a couple of newcomers.
In Carrboro, challenger Susan Romaine led the field of five candidates for Board of Aldermen with all eight precincts reporting. Romaine won 29.8% of the vote, followed by Aldermen Damon Seils and Sammy Slade, with 28.4% and 24% respectively. They will fill the three open board seats.
In Chapel Hill, incumbent Jessica Anderson garnered 18.2% of the vote for Town Council with all 24 precincts reporting. She will be joined on the board in December by challenger Amy Ryan, who had 14.7% of the vote; incumbent Michael Parker, with 14.3% of the vote; and challenger Tai Huynh with 13.2%.
The Orange County Board of Elections reported 4,293 ballots cast during early voting for Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough mayors and board members, and for four seats on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board.
Several incumbents chose not to run for another term this year, including school board members Pat Heinrich, Jean Hamilton and James Barrett. Barrett has launched a campaign for N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In Carrboro, Alderwoman Bethany Chaney will leave her seat after five years, and in Chapel Hill, 10-year Town Council member Donna Bell declined to seek another term. Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens also is retiring after 14 years in office.
Mayor Pam Hemminger easily defeated challenger Joshua Levenson, winning 88.5% of the vote.
This year’s council race saw competing platforms supported by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) and NEXT Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Both groups advocate for similar issues, including affordable housing, the environment and transportation options, but differ in their approach to how the town can grow more sustainably.
In the last four years, CHALT has galvanized concerns about tall apartment buildings going up in the Blue Hill District, which surrounds Eastgate Crossing shopping center, to turn over the council membership. Seven members of the current nine-member council, including Hemminger, were endorsed by CHALT in their elections.
NEXT Chapel Hill and Carrboro-endorsed candidate Sue Hunter and CHALT-endorsed challenger Renuka Soll, failed to get enough votes, trailing the top vote-getters Tuesday. Incumbent Nancy Oates, also backed by CHALT, fell from an early lead to lose her re-election bid.
Anderson, who remained the council front-runner throughout the night, credited her volunteers’ hard work and a positive campaign for her solid victory Tuesday. She spent the evening celebrating with her supporters at The Franklin Hotel, she said.
“I’m really proud of the campaigns that several of us ran that were very focused on the issues, focused on supporting the things that we believe in and not worrying about what other people are doing,” Anderson said. “I think that often is a really successful strategy, because people want to vote for something, not against something.”
Chapel Hill’s council race was close, with CHALT-backed candidates leading the field in early voting results. Parker, who was endorsed by NEXT Chapel Hill and Carrboro, came from behind as more precincts began filing their reports to win re-election.
He thanked voters for “putting their trust in me and giving me another four years on the council.” He also had kind words for the council’s now-youngest member Huynh, who is a UNC senior.
“I think it’s really wonderful that the voters of Chapel Hill looked past the obvious things and looked at the person himself and made the decision to support Tai, who I think deserved it,” Parker said. “He worked hard, (has) been involved in our community, and I think he will be a real asset to our council.”
Huynh and Ryan share the council’s priorities, he said, including for action on climate change, affordable housing and transit.
Huynh said his immediate priorities will be helping people who are being displaced and need affordable housing. He also wants to pass a racial equity ordinance that will provide the council with information before it makes a decision about the potential effect of that decision on minority residents.
Huynh said there was a moment of confusion Tuesday night when he thought he had lost the election to Oates. The moment turned to elation when someone at his campaign party checked results from the Durham County precincts in the Chapel Hill race and found he’d won.
He is “super grateful” for all the hard work supporters put in and the advice that various elected officials offered, Huynh said.
“The community spoke, and we got the support that we needed,” he said. “It really showed that we’ve had a broad spectrum of support across the community. It’s something that me and the team are just really proud of, how we’ve been able to mobilize people from all walks of life.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, who did not face a challenger in her bid for a fourth term, won with 96% of the vote. There were 133 write-in votes for mayor.
In Carrboro, challengers Steve Friedman and Matthew Clements trailed the top vote-getters throughout the night. Challenger Matt Neal, who dropped out of the race in October, received 233 votes.
Name recognition and “a wonderful group of people” lifted her campaign to victory, Romaine said after hosting an election dinner party at her home.
“My goal was somehow to get into the top three, and to tell you the truth, I was shocked and very humbled by the news,” Romaine said.
As a board member, she said her priority will be bringing more businesses, living-wage jobs and commercial tax revenues to the town. She will be looking for solutions that are simple, practical and affordable, she said.
“I worry about (diversity) maybe the most of all,” Romaine said. “Being at the polls over the last couple of weeks, you just have no idea how many people I talked to who told me, ‘I have lived in Carrboro for 15, 20 years, and I’m having to make this decision about whether I need to move, and I don’t want to move — I love this town — but I just can’t afford to live here anymore.’”
Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board
Incumbent school board member Rani Dasi led the race for four board seats. She garnered 23.6% of the vote with all 29 precincts reporting. Dasi will be joined on the board by challengers Jillian La Serna, with 22.3% of the vote; Deon Temne, with 17.5%; and Ashton Powell, who got 13.7%. They will serve a four-year term on the board.
Former school board member Andrew Davidson, who got 11% of the vote, rounded out the field. Two candidates who had withdrawn from the race after the ballots were printed — Carmen Heurta-Bapat and Louis Tortora — garnered just over 3,700 votes.
Hillsborough voters elected a new mayor Tuesday and returned three incumbents to the town’s Board of Commissioners.
Town Board member Jennifer Weaver ran unopposed to replace Mayor Stevens. She won 96% of the vote, with all four precincts reporting.
Incumbent member Matt Hughes led the Town Board race with 30% of the vote, followed by board members Mark Bell and Evelyn Lloyd, each of whom got 28% of the vote. Challenger Kevin Mason fell short of securing a seat with just 12% of the vote.
The town has solicited applications from residents seeking to fill Weaver’s unexpired term on the board. If the board elects a new member Nov. 25, the person will be sworn in for a two-year term on Dec. 9, when Weaver becomes mayor.