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, December 6, 1991

Towns may call on UNC to poll public

The News & Observer, Dec. 6, 1991

By RUTH SHEEHAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- Your local government may be calling you this spring. But it won't be about taxes.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro officials are expected next month to approve an agreement with the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and the Institute of Social Science Research to conduct a poll of voters. Questions will cover such local issues as bicycle helmets, land use, schools, taxes and more.

The poll, tentatively dubbed "Public Pulse," is indicative of a growing trend in local government.


But if a majority of local leaders are enthusiastic about the prospect of the surveys, Chapel Hill town councilman Joseph Herzenberg has some doubts.

Calling the polls "government by electronic plebiscite," Herzenberg said officeholders are elected to make decisions, not react to public opinion.

He pointed out that people often do not respond in real life the way they answer questionnaires.

"Who's going to say they want higher taxes?" Herzenberg asked.

Tuesday, December 3, 1991

New path forecast for board: Personnel changes alter Town Council

The News & Observer, Dec. 3, 1991

CHAPEL HILL -- In a bittersweet ceremony Monday night, the Town Council mourned the recent death of board member and former Mayor James C. Wallace and swore in its newly elected officials.


The town's three most senior elected officials were replaced by political newcomers.

Kenneth S. Broun, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor, was sworn in as mayor. He was joined by Joseph J. Capowski, a neighborhood activist, and Mark H. Chilton, 21, a UNC-CH undergraduate and the youngest elected official in the state.

Incumbents Joseph A. Herzenberg and the Rev. Roosevelt Wilkerson Jr. were sworn in for second terms on the council and Herzenberg was elected mayor pro tem.

With the swearing in of new members, current council members predicted a change in the style and direction of the board.

Among the issues facing the group are a call for a reduced tax rate, a greater demand for town services, the growth of the University of North Carolina, the search for a new landfill and increased crime and traffic.

"A week ago, I was about to pull into what I thought was a vacant parking place at town hall and I found a bicycle there," said council member Wilkerson, refering to Chilton's usual form of transportation.

"And I thought to myself, 'Boy, are things changing.'"

Monday, December 2, 1991

The season for giving thanks


Mayor Howes called the organizational meeting to order.

Council Members in attendance were Julie Andresen, Joyce Brown, Joe Herzenberg, Nancy Preston, Alan Rimer, Arthur Werner and Roosevelt Wilkerson, Jr. Also in attendance were Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina James G. Exum, Mayor-Elect Kenneth Broun, Council Member-Elect Joe Capowski, Council Member-Elect Mark Chilton, Assistant to the Mayor Lisa Price, Town Manager Cal Horton, Assistant Town Managers Sonna Loewenthal and Florentine Miller and Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos.


Council Member Preston said she envied the next recipient of cryptic notes from Council Member Herzenberg.


Item 8 Organizational Business



Mayor pro tem Herzenberg said it was the season for giving thanks. He thanked all those attending this evening's organizational meeting. Mayor pro tem Herzenberg also thanked all those who had been instrumental in his re-election to the Council. He said that voters deserved the gratitude of all for achieving the highest voter turnout ever for a local election. Mayor pro tem Herzenberg said this was a good sign for the health of democracy in the Town. He noted that residents of public housing neighborhoods and University students had voted in record numbers. Mayor pro tem Herzenberg said he hoped could live up to the standards of those he represented.

Thursday, November 7, 1991

Student, 21, is likely youngest state winner

The News & Observer, Page B1, Nov. 7, 1991

By RACHEL BUCHANAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- If Mark Chilton had been born two months later, his political savvy would be for naught.

Mr. Chilton, the surprise winner of one of four open seats in Tuesday's Chapel Hill Town Council election, barely made the legal age limit to enter the race. He turned 21 five weeks before election day.

That makes him the youngest elected official in town history. Although the state Board of Elections does not keep statistics on the ages of elected officials, he is probably the youngest candidate ever elected in the state.

And, more significantly for local politics, he is the first undergraduate at the University of North Carolina to be elected to a four-year term on the council.

Gerry Cohen won a seat on the town council in 1973 while he was a graduate student at UNC-CH. But Mr. Chilton is a senior, 21 credits short of graduation. And he was successful against eight opponents, including longtime town business owners, experienced politicians and dedicated community activists.

"Why did he win?" asked council member Arthur S. Werner, who was not up for re-election Tuesday. "He beat the other candidates. He came across as a very nice young fellow who was not a single-issue candidate."

Despite Mr. Chilton's age and student status, his election was no fluke. He began organizing a detailed campaign to win in January -- months before many of his opponents even considered bids.

"This morning I heard two businessmen talking about Mark," said Joseph A. Herzenberg, a town council member who won re-election Wednesday.

"One of them said, 'How did Mark fool so many people into voting for him?' And the other answered, 'Well, he fooled me by coming up to me and asking me for my vote.'"

Mr. Chilton looks younger than his age. His red paisley tie hangs conspicuously on a rumpled white oxford shirt. Blond-haired and round-faced, he could be mistaken for a freshman.

"Obviously that was the face he presented to the voters," said departing Mayor Jonathan B. Howes, a government professor at UNC-CH who has taught Mr. Chilton.

"Maybe that was something voters took comfort in. If they wanted to elect a student, he really looked like a student."

Mr. Chilton was born in Seattle and has lived in St. Louis, Raleigh and Warrenton, Va. He attended Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Alexandria, Va., and now lives off-campus in the Northside neighborhood. His parents, Scott and Mary Dell Chilton, live in Raleigh, which Mr. Chilton describes as "mass suburban sprawl."

The elder Chilton, a botany professor at N.C. State University, was surprised by his son's decision to run for office.

"We're very proud of him," Dr. Chilton said. "He's come a long way.

"As a child he had problems with disorganization. He'd do his homework and then forget to take it to school. I can remember one day I went to pick him up from school and he was a block away looking in the sewer. He said he thought he had dropped his homework in there."

An idealistic, environmental activist, the council member-elect became politically active during his sophomore year after a trip to Costa Rica with the Student Environmental Action Coalition.

"It made me realize that it's not that there aren't enough resources for everyone to get by in the world," Mr. Chilton said. "It's that they aren't fairly distributed."

He said he won the town council race because he surprised voters with his knowledge of the issues, especially his well-researched stand on transportation and solid-waste issues. And he credits his friends with hard work.

The 20 student members of the Mark Chilton For Council staff used homemade tactics to create a successful political machine.

They tacked up homemade poster-board and paint signs all over town, placed balloons around campus on election day and organized dorm captains to remind student voters to head to the polls.

But the campaign wasn't without its sophisticated elements. Mr. Chilton's staff contacted every registered voter on campus, conducted precinct analyses of voters to determine likely areas of support across town, and solicited the endorsement of the NAACP, the Orange County Greens, the Sierra Club and local newspapers.

The result was a heavy student turnout and an interesting election night for the town's political observers.

But when asked if the race will encourage him to seek a life in politics, Mr. Chilton leaned back and sighed.

"Gosh," he said. "I hope not."

Wednesday, November 6, 1991

Joe re-elected as top vote-getter in Town Council race

Town elects undergrad to council: UNC-CH's Chilton makes history; law professor wins mayoral race

The News & Observer, Nov. 6, 1991, Page A1

CHAPEL HILL -- Chapel Hill voters bolstered their historical ties to the University of North Carolina on Tuesday, electing a law professor as mayor and an undergraduate geography major to a seat on the town council.

In unofficial returns, Kenneth S. Broun, former dean of the UNC-CH School of Law, swept 50 percent of the vote in the three-candidate race for the town's top elected office. And Mark H. Chilton, 21, a UNC-CH senior, took 3,012 votes in the council race. That was enough to defeat eight other candidates and
squeeze into the fourth and final available seat on the board.

The victory surprised the town's political observers: Chapel Hill has never before elected an undergraduate to the board. "I think this race challenged a lot of people's ideas," Mr. Chilton said. "I think some people thought a student couldn't make a serious run and that a student couldn't be qualified."

Mr. Chilton, whose parents live in Raleigh, credited his victory to strong student turnout and his endorsements from the Sierra Club, the NAACP, the Orange County Greens and local newspapers, including The Daily Tar Heel.

The council race drew an unusually large field - 12 candidates. And with the two incumbents emerging as early favorites, the remaining 10 candidates were left to compete for the two last spots.

Incumbents Joseph A. Herzenberg and the Rev. Roosevelt Wilkerson Jr. won easily, with Mr. Herzenberg drawing the most votes at 4,803 and Mr. Wilkerson coming in second with 4,476.

(Editor's note: In addition to running his own race for re-election, Joe was an enthusiastic supporter of Mark Chilton's candidacy for Chapel Hill Town Council in 1991. He was a mentor and adviser to Mark, providing Chilton's campaign with logistical and organizational help, access to donors, and introductions to key contacts on the local political scene. Chilton's victory made him the first undergraduate elected to public office in North Carolina.)

Monday, November 4, 1991

Full races to spur Chapel Hill changes

The News & Observer, Nov. 4, 1991

CHAPEL HILL -- One thing is sure in Chapel Hill's crowded Town Council and mayoral races: Tuesday will bring a change in the town's political leadership.

Four council seats will be filled in Tuesday's election, sparking a close race between 12 candidates -- many of them political newcomers. The mayoral race between three candidates is equally tight.


In Chapel Hill, the crowded race is likely to sweep some new political perspectives into town government, especially since the town's three most senior elected officials are not seeking re-election.

"It is very important, when running a government, to know what happened the day before yesterday or the year before last," said Joseph A. Herzenberg, a Town Council member seeking re-election. "There are not a lot of people around here who have much of a collective memory of municipal government."

Vote Joe Herzenberg yard sign, 1991. Thanks to Mark Donahue and his talented co-workers at Replacements, Ltd. for restoring this yard sign to its original glory!

Tuesday, October 1, 1991

Who votes affects public policy

The News & Observer, Oct. 1, 1991

High voter turnout areas tend to be settled neighborhoods with plenty of homeowners and families, with middle to upper incomes and home values, with higher education levels and with most adults 30 or older.

Such differences in the profile of voters have implications for public policy. Those who vote set the agenda -- and those who don't are left out.

"It would appear there's a consistent bias in terms of who does vote and whose interests are represented," said Thad Beyle, a political science professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. "The same bias occurs in terms of who runs for office and who wins."

In any election, a good portion of the people who could vote don't vote. In November, despite the closely watched U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Jesse A. Helms and Democratic challenger Harvey B. Gantt, less than half of the Triangle's 18-and-older population cast ballots.

In local elections, without the lure of highly publicized national and state contests, even fewer people go to the polls.


The needs of poor neighborhoods can be slighted when few votes come from them, said Joseph Herzenberg, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. Sometimes such neighborhoods find themselves host to unpopular projects, such as halfway houses for troubled teens or for the mentally ill, because middle-class activists know how to use their pull to block the projects from their own communities.

"Despite a commitment to fairness and the notion of the full participation of the entire population in the political process, it does in fact skew it toward middle and upper-middle class homeowners," he said.


However, a high turnout is not always in a politician's best interest.

Mr. Herzenberg said that some years ago, liberal candidates in Carrboro were able to assure electoral success by supporting public transportation. Students, who depended on the buses to get to classes, got out and voted for liberals to make sure the bus system would survive.

Conservatives, who had opposed public spending on the bus system, eventually figured out the liberal strategy and switched their position, he said. Lacking an issue to draw them to the polls, students stopped voting -- and conservatives started winning elections.

Thursday, September 19, 1991

Trees mistakenly cut near bypass

The News & Observer, Sept. 19, 1991

By SUSAN KAUFFMAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- A state slip of the ax has caused some town residents to criticize the state Department of Transportation for cutting more trees than they say were necessary as it widens the bypass around town.

Two weeks ago contractors for the transportation department began clearing wide swaths of trees and foliage to expand the intersection of South Columbia Street and N.C. 54 -- another stage in the bypass widening project.

In the process, a state highway subcontractor mistakenly cleared a patch of hardwood trees and brush on private property in the Westwood neighborhood, which borders N.C. 54 to the north.

As a result some people are angry about the clearing in general that stretches west on N.C. 54 as well as the encroachment onto private property.

"It was quite a slaughter of trees, not just for the property owners immediately affected, but for drivers on Fordham Boulevard. It's an absolute disaster," council member Joseph A. Herzenberg said.


Riding herd on the state is what another Westwood resident asked the Chapel Hill Town Council to do last week. Brent Lambert, backed by a group of neighbors, informed council members that he had prevented more damage from occurring on the property of his neighbor, Sydenham B. "Syd" Alexander.

"I hope the council takes this example and acts upon it to prevent it happening in the future," Mr. Lambert said.


Council members said they shared Mr. Lambert's concern.

"The tree protection task force worked for well over a year on the ordinance and all the time, the bad guys we had in mind were private developers, utility companies or maybe a crazed anti-tree citizen," Mr. Herzenberg said. "We never seriously considered a government agency would indulge in massacring trees."

Saturday, September 14, 1991

Group to seek gay candidates - Fund-raiser, meeting set

The News & Observer, Sept. 14, 1991

By MARLA COHEN, Staff writer

DURHAM -- A new organization wants to bring more candidates for public office out of the closet and into the state political arena.

The North Carolina Lesbian and Gay Political Action Agenda is gearing for its organizational meeting and fund-raiser on Sept. 21. One goal is to encourage openly gay and lesbian candidates to run for local and statewide public offices.

"We already know there are lesbians and gays in the General Assembly," director Mandy Carter said. "We want more to run, but we also want those who are already there to feel like it's not political suicide to be out."


One way the group hopes to achieve its goal is by putting money behind its endorsements. And development of a political action committee could go a long way toward that end, Ms. Carter said.

Although forming too late to tackle the 1991 elections, Ms. Carter and another organizer, Michael R. Nelson, have roughly sketched plans for the next five years.


After the 1990 Senate race in which Republican Sen. Jesse A. Helms defeated Democrat challenger Harvey B. Gantt, gay and lesbian organizers realized a need for an ongoing political organization to promote their interests. During that heated race, N.C. Senate Vote '90 was formed.

Senate Vote '90 sought to defeat Mr. Helms by conducting a campaign against him independent of Mr. Gantt's efforts. The group raised about $275,000 in its efforts, said Ms. Carter, who was the organization's only paid staffer.

Mr. Nelson, who ran as an openly gay candidate for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in 1989, said it would be premature to discuss specific goals of any political action committee that develops from these efforts. But generally, the group would aid gay and lesbian campaigns as well as those of heterosexual candidates that are supportive of gay issues.

Nationwide there are 56 openly gay and lesbian elected officials. Including political appointees, there are more than 1,000 out-of-the-closet officials, according to figures from the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a Washington-based political committee concerned about gay and lesbian issues.

But North Carolina's only openly gay office holder is Chapel Hill Town Council member Joseph A. Herzenberg.

And while political action committees have come under fire as a way for private interests to fill campaign coffers, organizers say they are part of the system.

"I have some reservations about them myself," said Mr. Herzenberg, who said he would not use any funds from this or any other political action committee in his re-election campaign. "But they are part of the political landscape, and an effective way of citizens getting their will across to elected officials."

Tuesday, August 20, 1991

Note from Joe - Welcome back (and welcome to East Franklin precinct)

When I moved off campus into the Pink House on North Street in the summer of '91, just around the corner from Cobb Terrace, I became Joe's neighbor and a new resident of East Franklin precinct.

Joe served as precinct chair of East Franklin for 35 years, from 1972 until his death. Always excited to have another Democrat on the rolls, he took the liberty of filling out a change-of-address form to welcome me aboard.

Every year on Election Day, rain or shine, you could count on seeing Joe outside the East Franklin polling place at the Lutheran Church on East Rosemary Street. Standing just outside the line beyond which no campaigning was allowed, Joe would greet and talk with the voters who showed up, nearly all of whom knew him. It goes without saying that if anyone needed advice about which candidates were especially good that year, Joe was more than happy to help out.

Joe on North Street in Chapel Hill, 1991

Friday, June 28, 1991

One act of violence using a gun is too many

Guns, shootings increase on Chapel Hill streets

The News & Observer, June 28, 1991

CHAPEL HILL -- Guns are appearing more frequently in Chapel Hill, and gun-related crime is skyrocketing, police say.

"We've been concerned about it all along but when the public hears about it they raise an eyebrow," Capt. Ralph V. Pendergraph said. "It's sort of a national trend." Police point to recent shootings in the downtown area and to an increase in fatal shootings during the past two years. They also say the number
armed robberies has risen sharply in Chapel Hill and Carrboro in the last year.


Early last year, the escalation in violence prompted Town Council member Joseph A. Herzenberg to call for a restriction on gun sales. But a report issued by town Attorney Ralph D. Karpinos concluded the town did not have the authority to pass such an ordinance.

Mr. Herzenberg said Thursday he would like to see the issue of gun control rekindled in light of the recent incidents.

"Every time there's an act of violence involving a gun I think of it," he said. "One act of violence using a gun is too many. Frankly, I don't think it's an issue Chapel Hill is divided on."

He said it was important to do what is necessary to preserve downtown Chapel Hill as a safe place.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Chapel Hill is the only town in North Carolina that has a Main Street as dynamic as we do," he said. "We really have a jewel and we need to polish it."

Wednesday, June 5, 1991

Mayor's race apt to be crowded

The News & Observer, June 5, 1991

By RACHEL BUCHANAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- The decision by Mayor Jonathan B. Howes not to seek re-election has opened political floodgates in Chapel Hill, creating speculation and encouraging a pack of would-be candidates.

Traditionally, campaign posters don't start popping up on Chapel Hill lawns until the leaves change color. But Mr. Howes' announcement last month has prompted an early opening in the political season.


Two board members likely to consider a bid for the job are Nancy Preston, mayor pro-tem, and Joseph A. Herzenberg, the only openly gay elected official in the state. Ms. Preston was unavailable for comment. Mr. Herzenberg said he had not decided whether to run.

"I've had discussions with my campaign-planning staff and we haven't made any decision yet," he said. "We may not announce it to the world before September. Long campaigns are a bad idea."

Saturday, May 25, 1991

UNC-CH students want to cut gay group's funds

The News & Observer, May 25, 1991


CHAPEL HILL -- Some students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill want the school to stop funding the campus gay and lesbian group because they say its members commit "crimes against nature."

The UNC-CH summer Student Congress has voted to recommend funding for the Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association be withdrawn next year. Congress speaker Timothy K. Moore said he sponsored the proposal because the CGLA violates state statutes outlawing sodomy and other forms of "unnatural sexual intercourse."

"The CGLA advocates the activities of homosexuals," said Mr. Moore, a senior from Kings Mountain. "By virtue of homosexuality being an illegal activity, the code of the Student Congress prohibits us from allocating funds to a group that promotes illegal activity."

The organization is the primary support group for gays and lesbians on the UNC-CH campus. Among other things, it publishes a newsletter and sponsors workshops and seminars. It has about 150 members.

Elizabeth A. Stiles, a recent UNC-CH graduate who was co-chairman of the CGLA in 1988-89, said she was not surprised to hear about the move by the Student Congress.

"They've been saying homosexuality is illegal forever," said Ms. Stiles, who now works at the Orange County Women's Center. "There are certain acts that are illegal, but they are illegal for heterosexuals also. It's just too bad they had to go out of their way to make this kind of statement."

The recommendation by the summer Congress passed on a vote of 8-5, but is largely symbolic. The final decision on whether or not to fund the group rests with the full Student Congress, which makes budget allocations in the spring.

Nevertheless, Joseph A. Herzenberg, a Chapel Hill Town Council member and a gay-rights activist, said the move was significant.

"The fight has begun to move from tolerance to acceptance," said Mr. Herzenberg, the only openly gay elected official in the state. "That's why I think it will be a perennial battle."

Last year, the student government awarded the CGLA about $2,000. The money came from a $21 student-activity fee that all undergraduates paid as part of their tuition. That meant that, on average, each of the school's 23,000 students paid about a nickel to support the group.


Matthew F. Heyd, student body president...said the CGLA had a legitimate claim to student-activity funds because it offered students a necessary service.

"There are times when the student government should spend money on groups that are not supported by the majority of students on campus," said Mr. Heyd, a senior from Charlotte. "Part of the role of student government is to create a community where everyone feels comfortable."

Thursday, May 16, 1991

Chapel Hill Considers Public Smoking Limits


Charlotte Observer (Associated Press), May 16, 1991

Chapel Hill has joined the growing number of N.C. towns considering smoking restrictions.


At issue is a draft ordinance that would ban smoking in most public areas in Chapel Hill. It would include shopping malls, public rest rooms, common office areas - even lines in banks.

Restaurants would be required to reserve 25 percent of their seats for nonsmoking patrons. And bars would be required to post a window sign explaining their smoking policy.

The measure is expected to win approval of the nine-member Town Council.

"One of the basic concerns of municipal government is the public health and safety," council member Joe Herzenberg said. "And if this isn't the public health and safety, I don't know what is."

Thursday, May 2, 1991

Town is cautious of plan - Residents review UNC land report

The News & Observer, May 2, 1991

By RACHEL BUCHANAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- Remembering the conflicts that resulted when the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released its land use plan in 1987, residents are wary of trusting their biggest neighbor.

But last month, when the university released its revised plan, the response was guarded. "This is a considerable improvement over the 1987 plan," said Joseph A. Herzenberg, Town Council member.

Still, residents who have long seen the university's growth as a direct threat to their homes and happiness remain wary of the university's long-term plans.

To hear the stories -- already lore among the citizenry -- the release of the university's long-term development plan raised the ire of Chapel Hill's politically active populace like no other event.

Residents, in short, wouldn't accept what the university planned for development in and around their neighborhoods. Their protests forced the university back to the drawing board for more than four years.


Town residents say they are pleased by the changes, but not everyone is satisfied.

"There is some distrust," Mr. Herzenberg said. "Over the past 25 years, there have been a number of incidents where there has not just been suspicion the university might do something, there is evidence. The university has disregarded local ordinances and the feeling of people living in neighborhoods surrounding the university."

Residents are upset with parts of the new plan that includes more than six new parking decks, development of a thoroughfare that would draw traffic to the edges of campus -- which would destroy some of the married student housing -- and development of more than 3.5 million square feet of building space on campus in the next 20 years.

"The university is a state institution that does not have to abide by town ordinances," said Estelle Mabry, president of the Neighborhood Alliance, a townwide residents association. "So there is a lot of the concern about where parking decks are going to be. Why are they considering building them on the edge of those neighborhoods, bringing in all those cars? We want to talk about alternative transportation."

Saturday, February 23, 1991

Gunshot kills bookshop owner: Chapel Hill police hunt for clues, motive

The News & Observer, February 23, 1991

CHAPEL HILL -- The owner of an alternative bookshop in Chapel Hill died Friday after being shot the night before in the small wooden house where he specialized in left-wing literature.

Robert Howard "Bob" Sheldon, 40, owner of Internationalist Books at 408 W. Rosemary St., died at UNC Hospitals from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Police said they had few leads and no motive in the shooting.

"We believe he was shot with a small-caliber handgun," said Lt. Barry Thompson. "We don't have any motive. We don't have any suspects. We don't have any idea what happened."

Almost immediately, speculation about the slaying engulfed the town.

Some of Mr. Sheldon's friends looked for a connection between the killing and his left-wing politics, particularly his opposition to the Persian Gulf war.


Meanwhile, Mr. Sheldon's friends grieved. They remembered him as a man of conscience and conviction whose ear-to-ear smile disappeared only in the midst of passionate political debate.

The shop, which Friday was cordoned off by a circle of yellow police tape, was a hotbed for alternative politics. Its shelves are stocked with books on the politics of Central America, Africa, the Middle East. There are sections devoted to gay and lesbian rights, and others to religion and anti-militarism.

"Bob was a very important person in the leftist community in Chapel Hill," said Joseph A. Herzenberg, a Town Council member. "His store was much more than a place of business. It was a place for political conversation in a way that no other place in town has been for years."

When Mr. Sheldon first came to Chapel Hill in the 1970s, he was known as a rigid communist. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was said to debate teachers frequently during political science classes. He worked as a nurse at the school infirmary.

He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.

"Bob had a long history of political activism, and he was very radical when he came to town," Mr. Herzenberg said. "But he had mellowed considerably over the years. He registered to vote, and I think voted for Harvey Gantt."


Tuesday, January 29, 1991

Chapel Hill rejects war sanctuary plan

The News & Observer, Jan. 29, 1991


CHAPEL HILL -- Facing a deeply divided, standing-room-only crowd that mirrored the nation's anguish over the Persian Gulf war, the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday rejected a move to declare the town a haven for military deserters and conscientious objectors.

The council voted down the sanctuary proposal, 6-2, with most members saying it was too radical. But the issues weren't simple and the debate was heated in a university town that became famous for its Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 1970s. "This asks us to endorse particular behavior that is certainly illegal, is something we could not carry out, and is not supported by a majority of our citizens," said council member Arthur S. Werner, who voted against the plan.

At issue was a petition presented by the Orange County Greens, the local chapter of a worldwide, liberal political action group.

Under the plan, the town would have welcomed military deserters, conscientious objectors, war protesters and people who withheld part of their taxes to protest the war.

The proposal also would have allowed town employees -- including police officers -- to refuse to prosecute or arrest protesters or deserters. But the petition would not have been legally enforceable.

Council members Joyce Brown and Joseph A. Herzenberg voted for the sanctuary petition. But the majority of the council agreed with opponents and took the unusual step of refusing to accept a citizens' petition.

"I don't think {the sanctuary petition} deserves to see the light of day," said council member Alan E. Rimer. "I don't want us to do anything with it."

The split vote was indicative of the divisiveness that has racked the town since the sanctuary plan was proposed last week.

Council members said they had received numerous phone calls about the "safe haven" proposal. Town hall had received more than 50 calls in the previous three days. And security was tight at Monday's meeting, with Police Chief Arnold Gold and at least two undercover officers present.

The crowd was fraught with emotion. Supporters urged the council to meet Chapel Hill's image as a courageously liberal college community.

Many people at the meeting carried signs that typified the intellectual, rebellious streak the town has become famous for. Among them: "Individuals Should Not Abrogate Their Thinking and Moral Judgment to the President," and "Follow Martin Luther King's Dream, Not George Bush's Nightmare."

The Rev. W.W. Olney, who last week declared his church a sanctuary for war resisters, made an impassioned plea.

"Every day I get calls from across the state and out of state from young men and women saying, 'I do not want to kill and I do not want to be killed,'" said Mr. Olney, pastor of the Community Church. "How can we turn our backs on our children who can not bring themselves to kill?"

But others urged the council to reject the proposal, calling it unconstitutional, unenforceable and damaging to the town's reputation. Some waved flags while the council debated the petition.

"Chapel Hill would become the object of maximum derision and vilification in North Carolina and the country, and rightfully so, if this is passed," said Phillip J. Sullivan, a retired businessman and former Navy officer.

"Enticing members of the U.S. Armed Services to go AWOL is illegal, big-time. Most of us in Chapel Hill would consider that an act of treason."

Tuesday, January 22, 1991

Town is asked to be haven for deserters

The News & Observer, Jan. 22, 1991

By RACHEL BUCHANAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- This university town with a tradition of anti-war protests should become a sanctuary for military deserters and conscientious objectors, say members of the Orange County Greens, a political and environmental group.

The proposal has the support of one town council member and is likely to be presented to the full council tonight.

"Basically we want the town to declare itself a safe haven for individuals who are acting from their moral conscience in matters regarding the war," said Daniel A. Coleman, a spokesman for the group, which has about 200 members in Orange County.

"There is a strong sentiment of opposition to the war in this community, you can see that on Franklin Street every day."

The resolution -- which also will be presented to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen -- would allow city employees to enforce federal and state desertion laws according to their individual convictions.

"Local governments are reluctant to take stands on national policies," said Mr. Coleman. "But this is a case where we are able to bring the national concern back home where they can take local action."

The resolution describes Chapel Hill as having "a long tradition of citizens taking courageous stands to attain great social and political goals" and as a place that "has for many years been in the forefront of the call for social justice and peace."

Chapel Hill council member Joyce Brown, a member of the Greens, said she supported the resolution and thought the town needed to take a stand against the war.

"I think this is an excellent way for local government to acknowledge the grave concern of our citizens about the war," said Ms. Brown. "This would certainly be a strong stand."

But other council members said the resolution might be too strong.

"I am personally against the war," said council member Joseph A. Herzenberg. "And I do believe in taking steps to work toward peace and putting pressure on the government to change its policy. But I'm not sure I want to go this far. I know that sounds cowardly, but I like to think about things."

The Rev. Roosevelt Wilkerson, a major in the Air Force Reserve and a council member, said he would not support the resolution.

"Personally, I don't think this is the proper time for us to be engaged in this type of dialogue," said Mr. Wilkerson. "I feel we need to be supportive of the young men and women engaged in this conflict not by choice but by the resolve of our nation to bring about peace worldwide.

"There may be dialogue about whether or not we are doing the right thing but that holds no place when you have young men and women on the firing line risking their lives."

Members of the Greens said they planed to present the council with the resolution at tonight's public hearing, which begins at 7:30 in town hall. It is unclear whether the council will allow the group to make its petition because the town council usually accepts petitions during its regular council meetings, not at public hearings.

But Mr. Coleman said he would urge the council to consider his plan.

"If they try to sit on it, to me that conveys a sense of a lack of moral fiber on such a critical issue," said Mr. Coleman.

"This is not like most of the things that come before them. This is something that is so much a part of everyone's thoughts and feelings that it behooves them to take this up."