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.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Service Thursday for Herzenberg

New Jersey Herald, Nov. 12, 2007


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Civil rights activist and former Franklin resident Joseph Herzenberg will be honored with simultaneous memorial services in Chapel Hill and at F. John Ramsey Funeral Home in Franklin on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

A former history professor at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., Herzenberg died Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007, due to complications from diabetes. He was 66. After relocating to Chapel Hill in the 1970s, he became the first openly gay elected official in the state when he won a seat on the Chapel Hill Town Council in 1987.

"A lot of people think of Chapel Hill as being this liberal bastion, but it was a fight," explained Herzenberg's friend and current Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt, noting that Herzenberg had been temporarily appointed to the council in 1979, but lost his bids for reelection in 1981 and 1983. After barely winning the last open seat in 1987, Herzenberg went on to become a popular public figure throughout Chapel Hill.

"It's not that he just knew all the businessmen on (Chapel Hill center) Franklin Street, he knew all the homeless guys by name," said Mark Chilton, mayor of Carrboro, N.C., and former Chapel Hill Town Council member. "He saw all those different people as individuals to be represented. He had a great sense of humor, and I think for a lot of folks from Chapel Hill, he's a figure that people very much associate with the town."

Throughout his years on the council, Herzenberg fought to fund the town library system, register the downtown area as a historic district, and preserve town parks with a greenway system of bicycle paths and walking trails connecting them all.

"He really set the bar for environmental protection and preserving open space, as well as using his seat on the council as a place to speak about equality and justice issues," said Kleinschmidt, adding that these issues made Herzenberg the No. 1 vote-getter upon his re-election in 1991.

"He was extremely popular, becoming himself part of the heart of Chapel Hill. He really left this (town) a better place."

Though he had traveled all over the world, Chilton said, "Joe was very proud of being from New Jersey, particularly from that northwestern area. He would always scold people who had anything negative to say about New Jersey, and point out that most folks who said such things had never been to the parts of New Jersey that were really beautiful."

Herzenberg is survived by his brother, Robert Herzenberg; sister-in-law, Deborrah Herzenberg DiMatteo; nephew, Michael; and niece, Sarah. He was predeceased by a brother, David C. Herzenberg, who was a prominent Sussex County attorney who once headed up the Somerset-Sussex Legal Services and did much pro bono work on behalf of the needy.

No comments: