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.

Thursday, September 9, 1993

Town still bearish on arms - Chapel Hill unfazed by gun control foes

The News & Observer, Sept. 9, 1993


CHAPEL HILL -- The Town Council appears ready to forge ahead with handgun restrictions despite the well-organized opposition displayed at two rowdy public hearings this week.

Gun control opponents orchestrated a powerful campaign to convince council members that the issue is just too unpopular. At a marathon public hearing attended by 450 people Tuesday and Wednesday nights, they outnumbered gun control advocates by more than 2-to-1.

They wore stickers and buttons, and some sported hats bearing the National Rifle Association insignia. They have begun petition drives and some have even formed a non-profit corporation dubbed the North Carolina Constitution Defense Association.

Some Town Council members were impressed by the turnout -- but added that they weren't convinced gun control is a bad idea.


Council member Mark Chilton said that despite the thunderous response at the hearings he's confident that many more Chapel Hill residents support the notion of limited gun control.

"What we saw was primarily a reaction against the idea of a gun ban," he said Wednesday. "An issue like that is bound to motivate a certain segment of the population. My responsibility as a council member is to use a lot of different methods to gauge the public sentiment of the 40,000, rather just listening to the 60-some at the hearing."

Chilton said conversations with townspeople have convinced him that concern about the number of guns on the streets is growing.

Art Werner, the council member who originally proposed the hearing, said he still wants to pursue three possible proposals outlined by the town attorney: banning handguns in public gathering places, such as polling stations and downtown streets; prohibiting possession of guns by people consuming alcohol or drugs; and banning handguns that are small and easily concealed.

"I didn't hear anybody present any evidence why we should not prevent people under the influence from carrying weapons, or why we should not ban weapons on places like Franklin Street," he said.

Council member Joe Herzenberg said the hearings clearly demonstrated the amount of tension in the usually peaceful university town.

"I am appalled, not necessarily by their anger but by their fears," he said.

Council members said they had received a flood of phone calls on gun control -- many from out-of-towners.

Most of the 32 speakers at the hearing Wednesday were from outside Chapel Hill; they came from Durham, Carrboro, Cary, Hillsborough and Raleigh. A vast majority of them defended their constitutional right to bear arms -- some insisting it is a God-given right. Others told horrifying personal stories about being victims of crime -- and pledged that with guns, they would never be victims again.

Still others, in angry tones, threatened to vote council members out of office if they don't back off on gun control.

The issue could become intertwined with the election this fall, when 11 candidates, including three incumbents, vie for five open council seats. Already three candidates have made public statements about gun control.

On Wednesday, the council adjourned without discussing the issue. Members referred the matter back to the town manager, who will present specific recommendations Oct. 25. A public hearing would then be held on the specific proposals.


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