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.

Wednesday, September 29, 1993

Herzenberg won't try to regain seat - Ex-councilman says he'll pay back taxes

The News & Observer, Sept. 29, 1993


CHAPEL HILL -- Five days after Joe Herzenberg resigned from the Town Council, he said Tuesday he will not mount a write-in campaign to regain his seat.

Speculation about a write-in campaign had flourished since Herzenberg stepped down Thursday to avoid a recall election. Voters, unhappy about his failure to pay state taxes, filed a recall petition Sept. 16.

Until Tuesday, Herzenberg himself seemed to be fueling the rumors. He called a news conference at Town Hall and showed up wearing a red, white and blue "Joe" button on his shirt. He also joked about whether voters would have to learn how to spell his last name correctly for their votes to count.

Herzenberg said he considered his options for several days and finally decided about noon Tuesday.

"This is a good time for me to end my service on the council," Herzenberg said, despite pledges of support from friends and others.

"I'm going to risk hurting a few friends."

The former council member also vowed to pay his back taxes. He said he was going to write a check for $12,000 later this week -- which would cover the majority of what he owes. He paid $4,000 last year when he was convicted of not paying state taxes for 14 years.

He said his attorney and the state revenue department were working on the details of the repayment.

Herzenberg again apologized for the lapse.

"There is no excuse for what I did. I ask the people of Chapel Hill to judge me by all that I have done."

Herzenberg said he couldn't fully explain his decision not to run. He attributed it partly to the quality of the candidates already in the race.

"I think the voters can easily find six people to vote for," he said. "It would be very different if a there were a bunch of nincompoops out there."

Eleven candidates, including three incumbents, are running for six open council seats Nov. 2.

The announcement not to wage a write-in campaign surprised council members, but most said they were relieved that Herzenberg quit last week.

"It was a good thing for the council because it cleared the air and kind of removed a cloud," said Council Member Julie Andresen. "Now we can concentrate on business and not be distracted."

Others were disappointed.

"It's unfortunate all this happened," said Jerry Salak, who had offered to help Herzenberg organize a write-in campaign. "I think he's a terrific asset to the town. It's sad that his mistake will prevent him from continuing the good work he's done."

Herzenberg, who served eight years on the council, said he watched the meeting Monday on a friend's television. "I've enjoyed the freedom I've had in the last few days," he said. "There is more to life than serving on the Chapel Hill Town Council. It's not that my life will be empty without this. It will be less full."

But the gregarious Herzenberg still wouldn't rule out running for the office sometime.

"Never say never," he said.

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