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

About Joe

My photo
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.

Friday, October 18, 1996

Gay issue emerges

The News & Observer, Oct. 18, 1996


CHAPEL HILL - When it comes to equal rights for gays and lesbians, about the only thing the candidates running in the 16th Senate District agree about is that it's not an important issue in the campaign

Of course, that hasn't stopped the issue of same-sex marriages and support for gays and lesbians from becoming the hottest topic in the campaign.

Sen. Teena Little of Southern Pines and challenger P.H. Craig of Chapel Hill, both Republicans, have highlighted their opponents' support for gay rights in radio ads and newspaper columns. Democratic challengers Eleanor Kinnaird, a former Carrboro mayor, and Howard Lee, a former state senator from Chapel Hill, counter that their opponents are using the topic to split voters and turn their attention away from more pressing issues.

Things are getting so heated that Kinnaird called a news conference Thursday to announce that she had signed a pledge to keep the campaign civil and not appeal to discrimination or prejudice.

"I challenge each of the candidates to do the same," Kinnaird said. "Teena is obscuring the issues of education, environment and campaign finance."

The latest flap surrounds a radio ad that Little has been running in all parts of the district, which is made up of Orange, Chatham and Moore counties and parts of Lee and Randolph counties.

The one-minute ad begins: "Ellie Kinnaird, candidate for state Senate, voted to recognize same-sex marriages in Carrboro. Now, in a nonpartisan survey, she openly supports legalizing same-sex marriages as well as forcing employers to give hiring preferences to homosexuals."

The ad goes on to say that Kinnaird supports higher taxes and bigger government while Little cut taxes during her first term.

Kinnaird's supporters say the ad is a lie. As mayor of Carrboro, Kinnaird voted in 1994 to allow unmarried domestic partners to register with the town for insurance purposes and not to approve same-sex marriages as the ad states.

"She's gay-bashing in the hopes that it will get her elected back to the state Senate," said Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson, the state's first openly gay mayor. "It's about as close to a lie as you can get."

In addition, the advertisement refers listeners to a World Wide Web page attacking Kinnaird. ( The web page highlights Kinnaird's positions on several issues and has an image of a traffic sign that reads: "Stop Ellie."campaign.have become an issue."

Craig has also made gays and lesbians a part of his campaign, though he attacks both Kinnaird and Lee. At candidate forums and during stump speeches, Craig tells the audience that he does not take money from gay-related PACs and says his opponents do. In July, he wrote a lengthy column for the News of Orange in Hillsborough that focused on Kinnaird's and Lee's support for gay rights.

"Both Howard Lee and Ellie Kinnaird talked an awful lot about that issue in the primary to get elected," Craig said Thursday. "Now they realize that issue won't help them in the general election."

Lee said he had not personally heard the attacks. He said would concentrate on his campaign and not respond.

"I'm disappointed that it's being done," Lee said. "I've certainly taken the position that everybody should be free from discrimination. I've not taken a position on same- sex marriages or domestic partners. But I think it would be wrong for us not to fight against discrimination."

On Thursday at her news conference, Kinnaird announced that she had signed a civility pledge that the N.C. Interfaith Alliance - a group of religious voters that tries to counter the Christian Coalition - has asked candidates to sign.

When asked about her feelings about same-sex marriages, Kinnaird said it was not one of the issues she was focusing on.

"I want to talk about my agenda," she said. "Teena can talk about her agenda."

The fact that the Republicans are turning to the gay issue says a lot about the people who live in the 16th Senate District.

It's one of the largest geographic districts in the state and elects two state senators. It includes a concentration of progressives in places like Chapel Hill but also has staunchly conservative areas in Randolph and Moore counties.

That leaves some Kinnaird and Lee supporters unclear about whether the attacks will win or lose votes for the Republican candidates.

"I think Teena's doing it because she thinks it will get her votes in some parts of the district," said Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member who is gay. "But it also may hurt her because it may make some Democrats mad. Hopefully, it will galvanize Ellie's support and make them get out and vote."