Last week I put my money where my mouth is — $5, to be exact. I filed to run for a seat on Town Council. For the six years I’ve been writing Chapel Hill Watch, I’ve tuned in every Monday night during Town Council season and sat on my couch cheering on various council and community members and occasionally shouting at the TV the governance equivalent of “Catch the ball!”
Now it’s time for me to pack up the snark and get serious. Of the four council seats that voters will decide who will fill, one has been vacant since Matt Czajkowski resigned at the end of March to take a job in Rwanda, and the two incumbents who seem the least enthusiastic about returning have yet to file. (They have until noon this Friday, July 17.)
I’ve run in things — marathons and charity fundraiser — but never for anything. I’m finding the learning curve to be steep. Too old to win the support of the Young Democrats, I don’t know if there even is a special interest group for my demographic. I don’t have the money to be a top-level sponsor at a political meet-and-greet reception. And where do you get those life-size cutouts of yourself that people can take selfies with?
Nevertheless, I’m figuring out things as I go, and I’m making progress. I’ve recruited a big-hearted treasurer, though he’s not ready for an exclusive relationship. My campaign manager forgets to turn on his phone some days. And my photographer wasn’t speaking to me by the end of the photo shoot because she’d used up all her patience helping me select outfits.
I’m not the only political neophyte running this year. Certainly in years past a portion of the citizenry has risen up to overthrow the incumbents, but this year voters in every quadrant of town are angry because council has approved in quick succession developments that will eventually raise our taxes and lower our quality of life.
Since the last election, council has rezoned Central West north and south of Estes Drive to the east of MLK Jr. Boulevard; may allow The Edge, a project that would be up to 75% apartments, to build in the Resource Conservation District and make flooding worse downstream; eliminated all affordable housing and forced out several local businesses by approving form-based code for Ephesus-Fordham; and set the stage for massive traffic jams and tax hikes by approving Obey Creek. Sitting council members have turned major decisions over to staff and have ignored or scolded residents who speak up.
I can’t poke fun at politicians as long as I have without expecting major payback. But after six years of watching almost every council meeting, doing the research and making follow-up phone calls to write my blog posts, and speaking at council meetings when I’d rather leave that task for more eloquent people, I’ve learned a thing or two that might make for better council decisions if I had a seat at the table.
Now I’m ready to earn your vote. Visit www.nancyoates.org.
– Nancy Oates