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, November 4, 2009

Mayor-Elect Mark Kleinschmidt Wins in Chapel Hill


Last night, two-term Chapel Hill Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt was elected mayor of Chapel Hill in a hard-fought victory over fellow Town Council member Matt Czajkowski. One of Joe Herzenberg's political protégés, Kleinschmidt fulfilled part of Herzenberg's unfinished legacy by becoming the first openly gay (and at age 39, the youngest ever) mayor of Chapel Hill.

Kleinschmidt ran on an unabashedly progressive platform, supporting civil liberties, a responsible approach to development, and environmental protection.

And unlike his opponent, who vastly outspent him by at least a 4-1 margin, Kleinschmidt supported and participated in the town's pioneering campaign finance reform program, Voter-Owned Elections. Czajkowski vocally opposed the program, claiming, "there is no special interest influence in Chapel Hill."

Amazingly, Czajkowski was so ignorant of local politics and history that in the week before the election, he ran a full-page endorsement ad listing former segregationist mayor Sandy McClamroch at the very top of his list of supporters. In early 1964, McClamroch led a 4-2 majority of the then-Board of Aldermen in Chapel Hill in voting against a public accommodations law that would have integrated Chapel Hill. The town's refusal to integrate became a moot issue when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in July, 1964.

During the campaign, Kleinschimdt also had to contend with gay-baiting tactics used by another marginal mayoral candidate, Kevin Wolff. First, Wolff paid for a push poll that called himself the only "moral" candidate in the race. Then, he distributed flyers labeling Kleinschmidt a "gay-rights activist" who doesn't have children or own a home in Chapel Hill. In fact, Kleinschmidt owned a home in Chapel Hill from 2003-08 and is currently house-hunting for a new one, as fully detailed by the News & Observer once Wolff's scurrilous campaigning came to light.

Despite these obstacles, Kleinschmidt ran a professional yet grassroots campaign built on small donations, broad community support, and lots of volunteer effort. He focused relentlessly on the nuts and bolts of local issues, and his "reputation for getting things done" while standing up for progressive principles. It was the classic Herzenberg campaign model, and Joe would have been overjoyed to be there at the R&R Grill (formerly Papagayo's) last night watching Kleinschmidt declared the winner by the TV cameras while an overflow crowd of his supporters cheered.

Indy Weekly, 11-4-09 ("Relieved and jubilant, Kleinschmidt basks in win")

Supporters erupted. His mother burst into tears. His sister shouted. Mark Kleinschmidt just smiled contently, arms crossed but giving the kind of ear-to-ear grin you could feel across the room, satisfaction and disbelief merging together on his face. The campaign had just received word that rival Matt Czajkowski had made his concession speech at the Franklin Hotel...

N&O, 11-4-09 ("Kleinschmidt wins Chapel Hill mayoral race")

CHAPEL HILL -- The liberal establishment held off a band of businessmen trying to change the town's course. Two-term councilman Mark Kleinschmidt, a death-penalty defense lawyer and gay rights activist, narrowly defeated colleague Matt Czajkowski to take the reins as mayor. Kleinschmidt had just 48.6 percent of the vote in the four-person mayoral race...

Q-Notes, 11-4-09 ("Openly gay Kleinschmidt is next Chapel Hill mayor")

A member of the Chapel Hill Town Council since 2001, Kleinschmidt will become the third openly gay man to hold mayoral office in the state...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Worthy of the honor

Chapel Hill News, Editorial, September 23, 2009

Roses to Chapel Hill's ongoing efforts to commemorate those local activists who led the way on the momentous issues of civil rights and justice.

A historic marker was unveiled in the front of the Franklin Street post office Sunday. The event, sponsored by the town and the local chapter of the NAACP, honored nine remarkable local people: Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittain, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams.

The marker is at a spot that has been named Peace and Justice Plaza. Those nine are worthy of the honor, and we're confident that each of them would have agreed that there have been many more who played key roles in the struggle.

It's always worth remembering those who put themselves on the line to help society live up to its ideals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dedication of Tribute Marker

(Click for larger image)

Town to unveil tribute marker today

Chapel Hill News, September 20, 2009

CHAPEL HILL - The historic unveiling of a tribute marker will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. today at Peace and Justice Plaza in front of the Post Office-Courthouse, 179 E. Franklin St.

The public event will be the second in a series sponsored by the town and Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP to honor nine local peace and justice leaders: Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams.

The quote on the marker comes from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, it is the presence of justice."

The town has recently increased efforts to commemorate its civil rights history.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Town, NAACP to remember historic march

Chapel Hill News, August 16, 2009

On Friday, Aug. 28, the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the Town of Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP will hold the first of two programs to honor nine local peace and justice leaders.

An outdoor rally will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Peace and Justice Plaza outside the Post Office/Courthouse at 179 E. Franklin St. The leaders being honored are Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams.

Three weeks later, the public unveiling of a tribute marker at Peace and Justice Plaza will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. The Town Council has established a process to honor additional peace and justice leaders in the future.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Missing Joe

Carrboro Citizen, July 23, 2009

There are a lot of reasons people miss former Chapel Hill Town Council member and greenways champion Joe Herzenberg around election time.

For poll organizers and precinct captains, a big reason is that he could always be counted on to lend a hand. For journalists, he was a kind of institutional memory of local elections.

Joe could have quickly answered one of the big trivia questions floating around about the four-way race for Chapel Hill mayor. So we’ll put this one to our readers: When was the last time four people ran for mayor of Chapel Hill?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Inside the halls of power: Gays and lesbians have served the Carolinas well

Q-Notes, June 27, 2009


In the 1980s, the chances for any openly gay man or lesbian woman wining an election to public office were pretty much slim-to-none. That didn’t stop scores of gay and lesbian North Carolinians from throwing their hat into the ring and giving it a shot.


Bob and Lightning

On August 25, 1981, openly gay N.C. State University graduate student Bob Hoy filed to run for the Raleigh City Council where just a generation before, arch-conservative Jesse Helms held office. Hoy was ultimately unsuccessful. Even The Front Page, North Carolina’s most comprehensive gay and lesbian newspaper at the time, said Hoy wasn’t a “serious contender.”

The Front Page’s writers changed their tune when Lightning A. Brown came onto the scene, extolling his abilities and platform. Just weeks after Hoy filed to run in Raleigh, Brown filed to run for the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Come election day, neither Hoy nor Brown won. Hoy picked up only three percent of the vote in his primary. Brown picked up more than 1,400 votes in his primary, but ultimately failed to capture the 2,100 votes required to continue on to the general election.

Hoy’s and Brown’s candidacies are likely the first openly gay candidacies for public office in the Carolinas.

‘The Mayor of Franklin St.’

Brown’s partner, Joseph Herzenberg, would go down in history. At the same time Brown was fighting for his chance to become Chapel Hill’s first openly gay town councilman, Herzenberg — not yet out — lost his chance to continue serving on the council.

Herzenberg had run for the council before. In 1979, he was narrowly defeated. He was later appointed to the council when University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student Gerry Cohen resigned. Trying to keep that seat in 1981, Herzenberg barely missed the mark, losing his seat in the same primary election that saw his partner’s defeat.

That didn’t stop Joe. In 1987, he ran again and won, becoming the state’s first openly gay elected official. Serving until 1993, Herzenberg was instrumental in political organizing statewide and was a co-founder of the Equality North Carolina Political Action Committee.

He died of complications from diabetes at the age of 66 on Oct. 28, 2007.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Joe was always a true friend of the IFC

IFC News, Spring 2009

Thanks, Joe

Throughout his life, Joe Herzenberg enriched Chapel Hill. And so it's no surprise that even after his death in 2007, Joe continues to help the community, thanks to bequests he made in his will, including a $250,000 gift to IFC.

A historian and political activist, Joe became the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina with his 1987 election to the Chapel Hill Town Council. A fierce advocate for social, environmental and economic justice, Joe's generous bequest will help the disenfranchised served by IFC by supporting emergency shelter and long-term housing opportunities for men, women and children.

In addition, IFC purchased a truck, for its new FoodFirst program, which is used to transport food between all of IFC's facilities.

The FoodFirst truck used to transport food between IFC locations is just one of the legacies of a generous bequest by the late Joe Herzenberg.

"Joe was always a true friend of the IFC," says Chris Moran, IFC Executive Director. "He was a regular donor and advisor to IFC over the years. And he was someone who was extremely public in his views about supporting human services."

Community members are invited to support The Joe Herzenberg Fund; funds raised will support IFC's residential services operation.

For more information, contact IFC Development Director Kim Shaw at 919-929-6380 ext. 29 or