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.

Thursday, April 21, 1994

Howard Lee hears new sound: voters grumbling

The News & Observer, April 21, 1994


CHAPEL HILL -- Win or lose, state Sen. Howard Lee has carried Orange County every time he has run for office in a long, ground-breaking political career.

This year, however, he is hearing some rumblings of discontent from his home county as he campaigns for renomination in a three-way Democratic primary in the 16th Senate District.

"I don't think it adds up to any serious trouble," Lee said Wednesday. "I've never lost this county in any election I've run. I have a lot of friends in Orange County, and I have a lot of friends in Chapel Hill -- a lot of people who are not going to judge me on one issue."

While Lee continues to enjoy broad support, some longtime supporters nonetheless are finding themselves in a new, perhaps unexpected position -- splitting with him on issues ranging from a state lottery to gun control.

Feeling taken for granted and having grown increasingly disenchanted with Lee's record, the one-time supporters are now backing others in the May 3 primary.

"With the case of someone like Howard, people remember him as a liberal icon here, the first black mayor of a town in the South in the late 1960s," said Joe Herzenberg, a former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. "I wouldn't be surprised if most people still do vote for him, but I think there's an increasing erosion in his support."

Herzenberg said he thought he might have been isolated in his misgivings until he started hearing more dissatisfaction in recent months.

"When I started realizing I wasn't alone was when I started hearing people say, 'I have to confess that Howard does not represent me any more,'" said Herzenberg, who is supporting Margaret Pollard in the Senate race.

Lee, 59, was appointed to the Senate in 1990 from the 16th District, which covers all of Orange, Chatham and Moore counties and parts of Lee and Randolph counties. Lee narrowly won re-election two years ago along with Sen. Russell Walker of Asheboro, who will retire at the end of this term.

Also running in the Democratic primary are Pollard, a former Wake County health educator from Moncure, and Fred Hobbs, a civil engineer from Southern Pines.

The two top Democratic voter-getters will face Republican Teena Little of Southern Pines in the November general election.


"I represent the majority of the people in the best fashion I can," Lee said. "Many people realize that it would be a disservice to vote out one of the strongest members of the Senate over some very narrow views held by some people."

Breaking points:

For some former Lee backers, disagreements on issues such as gun control, a local equal rights provision and a state lottery have been the breaking points.

Beverly Kawalec, who campaigned for Lee when he was first running for mayor in the 1960s, said she is working for Hobbs this year. A strong advocate of gun control, Kawalec said Hobbs understands her point of view on the issue better than Lee.

"It seems to me such an important issue that it has been a major factor in my decision," Kawalec said. "I'm not voting against Howard, I'm voting for Fred Hobbs. I believe he is right on the issues. He can represent me well."

Lee said the misunderstanding over his position arose when he introduced a strict gun control measure that included a provision legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons under limited circumstances.


Most baffling of all, Lee said, is the criticism he took for his handling of a bill to allow the town of Chapel Hill to add an equal rights statement to its charter -- a statement that included a gay rights provision.

Lee said he and the other members of the local legislative delegation agreed to remove the statement to save other local bills that otherwise would have died in committee.

"It's unfortunate that some people will make a decision based on a narrow span of issues," he said.