By SEAN ROWE
On November 3, 1987, 3,575 Chapel Hill voters elected this state’s first openly gay politician. Joe Herzenberg, a 46-year old historian and former catfish rancher, who lost three previous bids for a seat on the town council, finally won…
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(Editor's note - The author of this article, Sean Rowe, is a novelist and former reporter for the Miami Herald. Sean was a close friend of Joe's and traveled with him to several continents during the 80's and 90's.
Orange County Commissioner and former mayor of Carrboro Mike Nelson convinced Joe to make one last run for the Town Council in 1987 and orchestrated a brilliant race as his campaign manager. In 1995, Mike would himself become the first openly gay mayor in N.C.
Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 1995, Joe recalled how "they had planned to turn any anti-gay attacks to their advantage in the race, believing that local voters would rally to support him if he was attacked for this reason." (Mosnier's words) This proved unneccesary, because Joe said from his '85 campaign on, he encountered very few incidents where his sexual preference was an issue in Chapel Hill.
Mike Nelson reflected on the significance of Joe's '87 victory in an October, 2007 post on his blog titled Twenty Years Later, written shortly before Joe's death.)