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.

Tuesday, April 14, 1992

Chapel Hill adopts strict gun ordinance

The News & Observer, April 14, 1992

By RUTH SHEEHAN, Staff writer

CHAPEL HILL -- Joseph A. Herzenberg threatened to use his toy pistol to compel his fellow Town Council members to adopt the state's strictest gun control ordinance Monday night.

But he didn't need it.

With just a few words of praise and no debate, the council unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits the possession, display and use of firearms on all town-owned property, at street fairs and on public transportation such as buses and taxis.

The ordinance took effect immediately.

Passage of the ordinance -- though unprecedented in the state -- was seen mainly as a symbolic gesture in the normally placid college town.

And although local gun enthusiasts expressed outrage at the effort, calling in the National Rifle Association for advice, not a single resident commented during the council's perfunctory deliberations Monday.

The ordinance is drafted to avoid a direct challenge to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which cites the right to bear arms.

And it carefully dodges provisions in the state constitution and state law forbidding municipalities from passing ordinances to govern the purchase, sale or possession of firearms.

The power of municipalities to control the carrying of weapons is more ambiguous, but Town Attorney Ralph D. Karpinos assured council members that the ordinance is well within their purview.

Currently, state law prohibits guns in school yards and on college campuses, and the town of Chapel Hill has an ordinance that makes it illegal to carry a gun in public parks.

Herzenberg -- who has been pressing for the tighter gun controls for almost three years -- said the ordinance would simply set further limits on the places where people can legally carry firearms and other dangerous weapons.

Council member Julie M. Andresen applauded the measure, noting that street fairs and guns are a dangerous mix.

"It makes a lot of sense not to have people carrying firearms around in that situation," she said.

Karpinos said the town's transportation division recently got a call from someone asking whether he could carry a gun on the bus from Chapel Hill to Durham. Until now, Karpinos said, the answer would have been yes.