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, May 5, 1994

Despite victory, Lee feels betrayed by voters

The News & Observer, May 5, 1994


CHAPEL HILL -- Fresh from a down-to-the-wire primary victory, a bitter and angry Howard Lee focused Wednesday on the votes he didn't get.

Recapturing the Democratic nomination hardly seemed to satisfy the incumbent District 16 state senator. Instead, Lee made a point of skewering some longtime liberal supporters who publicly deserted him for allegedly becoming too conservative.

"The people who know me know that I expect people to express their thoughts," Lee said. "I'm disappointed in all those people who did express them in that they did it openly, never allowing me the opportunity to talk with them one-on-one to explain whatever differences they felt they had. I felt that was disrespectful. I would have done that for them."

Lee, 59, a former Chapel Hill mayor and state senator since 1990, finished first in Tuesday's three-way Democratic primary. He and the second-place finisher, Southern Pines civil engineer Fred Hobbs, will meet Southern Pines Republican Teena Little in the November election for two District 16 Senate seats.

Although he dismissed the criticism as coming from a small group, Lee bristled at the liberal backlash.

"It's hard to believe people would want to dump in such a callous fashion someone who's lived the American dream," Lee said Tuesday night. He wondered why the critics hadn't aired their complaints to him.

"I don't feel I've ever had a chance to defend myself with these people," he said. "I'm very accessible. I have an answering machine, I'm listed in the phone book, I play tennis. If people seriously wanted to see if we'd drifted, there were many ways to work through it."


Lee said some of his critics focused on single issues such as workers' comp, gay rights or gun control.

"Each one has his or her own particular issue; if I was not right on that, I was not right on anything," Lee said.

Joe Herzenberg, a gay former Chapel Hill Town Council member who supported Margaret Pollard, said he thought Lee had dismissed his concerns, which he said went beyond gay rights. "When he called me, I rattled off 12 issues. I didn't even mention gay rights. He has heard from us."

Lawyer Adam Stein, who took Lee to task over workers' comp, said Lee didn't respond to his letters; he found other candidates more accessible.


Despite his anger, Lee said he is willing to overlook the split as he campaigns for another term.