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Memories With The Mayors

Chapel Hill's current mayor and former mayors share triumphs, challenges and simply heartbreaking moments

Photo by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

The former mayors of Chapel Hill met in late 2016 at The Carolina Inn to welcome their newest colleague, Mayor Pam Hemminger (seated, far right). From left, Howard Lee (term: 1969-1975), Joe Nassif (1979-1985), Ken Broun (1991-1995), Rosemary Waldorf (1995-2001), Kevin Foy (2001-2009) and Mark Kleinschmidt (2009-2015).


You’re only a year or so into your first term – how is it going so far?

We’re most proud of the food-for-the-summer program where we fed the children [of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools] over the summer. I’m so grateful and proud of how well our community rose to the occasion and came out to do all that.

And your hardest day?

My hardest day was the shooting of Maleah Williams, an infant, on Christmas Day and what that does to a community. Our community pulled together but it was a really, really hard situation.

Your biggest challenge, or surprise, since taking office?

We struggle with making sure we tell our story well so that people understand what’s going on. We need to tell it in a way the citizens can understand and connect to.

Other priorities?

I spend a lot of time trying to make positive connections on all levels at UNC; it’s a big university. The relationship takes a lot of maintenance, constant maintenance. And they also want to be good [partners]. We all work hard to make the community better.


My proudest achievement is the renaming of Airport Road to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard that goes right through the middle of our town.

It wasn’t universally popular.

Well, what it did was it created an opportunity for people to talk about race and culture in our town that we hadn’t necessarily had an opportunity to talk about.

What was the toughest part of your job?

Violence in our community is really, really hard, especially on its leaders. Eve Carson’s murder was shattering for all of us and I still have a hard time dealing with it.

From a policy perspective?

I think the hardest thing that we had to deal with, and Mark was on the Town Council at the time, was making sure our relationship with the university grew in a healthy way and that’s harder than it sounds. Carolina North was on the agenda and we slogged through that [until] we came up with a long-term vision that both the town and the university agreed to. It required effort and energy and trust.


I’m very proud that I took the lead in moving Chapel Hill from a public safety system to having separate police and fire departments. This allowed our police and fire departments to become more highly specialized, as the times required, and more adequately staffed. Today Chapel Hill excels in its public safety work.

What was your most challenging issue?

The biggest challenge was the review and approval of Meadowmont, which I supported. The mixed-use neighborhood proposal was extremely controversial for several years. I think the consensus today is that Meadowmont is an integral part of our town, with Rashkis Elementary School, a YMCA pool, a commercial center and the wildly popular UNC Wellness Center.


The hardest thing?

No question, the murders that occurred in Finley Forest in my last year. [Note: On February 10, 2015, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were murdered by a neighbor] That was the longest day of my life and, you know, of course, it was more than just that day. It’s very difficult making the community feel safe and comfortable.

Those were shattering days and you represented the town well. And from a policy perspective, some observations?

Because Kevin [Foy]’s efforts were so successful [with improving town and university relations], we now have this great relationship with the university. I became very close friends with UNC Chancellors Holden Thorp and Carol Folt during my early years, because of the hard work everyone did. I think all mayors will have a lot of work to do to keep improving the [town-and-gown] working relationship.


Former mayors Jonathan Howes (1987-1991) passed away in 2015; Sandy McClamroch (1961-1969) passed away in 2016; and James Wallace, who served two terms (1975-1979 and 1985-1987), died in 1991.