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.

Friday, November 5, 1993

Not gone, and not forgotten

The News & Observer, page B1, Nov. 5, 1993


CHAPEL HILL -- In the 1991 Town Council race, Joe Herzenberg came in first with 4,803 votes. On Tuesday, he finished last with 202 votes.

But Herzenberg isn't complaining. His name wasn't even on the ballot this time. The former council member even got four votes for mayor.

"I'm delighted. I'm honored," Herzenberg said Thursday. He then chuckled and said: "I didn't want to be mayor."

Herzenberg stepped down from the council in September to avoid a recall election by voters peeved about his failure to pay state taxes. An eight-year council veteran, he remained a popular figure in town despite his tax troubles. Many speculated that his chances were good for winning a write-in campaign.

A few days after his resignation, however, Herzenberg surprised everyone by declaring that he would not wage a write-in campaign.

The former council member said Thursday that he was impressed with the number of votes he got.

"That's a lot of write-in votes for a campaign like this," he said. "I didn't discourage or encourage people."

During election week, signs of Herzenberg's support were popping up all over town -- literally.

At Pepper's Pizza, one of Herzenberg's favorite Franklin Street hangouts, a flier on the wall gave detailed instructions on how to cast a write-in vote for him.

When he left his home early Tuesday, there were four candidates' signs in his yard. When he returned that night, a fifth sign had appeared -- one for him. He still hasn't figured out who planted it. But he's grateful.

Will it convince him to run again sometime in the future?

"It certainly is inspiring," he said.

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!

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