Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

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Chapel Hill, N.C., United States
Joe Herzenberg was born June 25, 1941, to Morris & Marjorie Herzenberg. His father owned the town pharmacy in Franklin, N.J., where Joe grew up. After he graduated from Yale University in 1964, Joe went to Mississippi to register voters for Freedom Summer. He joined the faculty of historically black Tougaloo College, where he was appointed chair of the history department. Joe arrived in Chapel Hill in 1969 to enroll as a graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina, and, along with his partner Lightning Brown, soon immersed himself in local, state, and national politics. Although Joe’s first campaign for the Chapel Hill Town Council in 1979 was unsuccessful, he was appointed to the Council to fill a vacant seat and served until 1981. In 1987, he was elected to the Council, becoming the former Confederacy's first openly gay elected official. Joe died surrounded by friends on October 28, 2007. He was 66 years old.

Wednesday, May 6, 1992

This is Chapel Hill, and That's The Law!


Charlotte Observer (Associated Press), May 6, 1992

Chapel Hill, the village famous for its open-minded attitude, is cracking down.

Instead of questioning authority, Chapel Hill is imposing it. In the past year, the town council has passed a variety of laws and tightened enforcement of existing ones that restrict smoking, the playing of loud music, gun possession, land use and what children wear when they ride their bikes.

Town leaders say it's all in the name of public interest.

"I believe the primary responsibility of local government in our society is public health and safety," said council member Joseph Herzenberg.

"These legislative efforts with regard to smoking, wearing a helmet, noise and so on are intended to protect the public health and safety. Remember, in your own home, you can smoke yourself to death."

Herzenberg said the council is not made up of a "bunch of irresponsible ninnies" who are out to cramp the town's style. Instead, he said, the council is attempting to balance the protection of personal freedom with the greater needs of the community.

Other folks are less enthusiastic about the town's infringement on what they perceive as personal rights.

"It's sort of like Big Brother," said Dennis Lubahn, a member of the Libertarian Party who lives in Durham and is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. "This is kind of the liberal side of Big Brother."

Meanwhile, town leaders downplay Chapel Hill's reputation for breaking new ground in the world of local government.

Council member Joyce Brown noted that other college towns have much stricter limits on noise. Chapel Hill just seems to get more attention, she said.