Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen race, 1979
During Joe's first unsuccessful campaign for the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen (later re-named the Town Council), in 1979, he came in fifth in the race to fill four seats. He was not publicly out at this time, although as one longtime observer of the Triangle's gay community claimed when interviewed in 2000 by Chris McGinnis as part of Listening For A Change: A History of Gay Men and Transgender People in the South, "everyone knew Joe was gay."
Following the election, partially because of his status as the runner up with the highest vote total, Joe was appointed to fill Gerry Cohen’s unexpired term as Alderman, when Cohen stepped down to run for Mayor. He served two years in office, but would lose his race for re-election in 1981, the same year his partner, Lightning Brown, also ran unsuccessfully for the Board.