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Who Should I Vote For?
A guide to decision making for municipal voters everywhere - but especially in Chapelboro, NC
Local elections are underway here in my sky blue bubble of North Carolina, and for the past few weeks, lots of folks have been asking me “who should I vote for?”
If you’re trying to figure out who to vote for in Carrboro and Chapel Hill races, I have recommendations, so read on.
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But wherever you vote, this post has something even more valuable for you - suggestions on how to choose among the candidates running for local office wherever you are.
Before you even start to consider the candidates, consider what qualities you seek in the people who will be entrusted to make policy decisions on behalf of your community. I find it useful to think about each elected office as a job that’s filled by voters rather than a hiring committee, because doing so draws attention to the duties elected officials will need to perform, the competencies that are required or desirable for performing those duties well, and the value of creating a team that consists of people whose strengths and perspectives will collectively help them do the best possible job at serving the community.
It’s commonplace for both voters and candidates to focus on issues and ideology; certainly, that matters. Yet, except in races that are highly polarized along ideological lines - as state and national general elections tend to be - other factors can be far more important. Those I consider include:
Have the candidates demonstrated their commitment to the community they seek to serve through other forms of public service, especially those in which they’d gain practical experience working with local governmental entities (for example, a town board, an advisory committee or a school improvement team)?
Can candidates point to concrete examples of how they’ve helped to dismantle systemic racism (and other forms of systemic oppression) in any organizational or institutional setting (as opposed to just giving lip service to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging)?
Do candidates demonstrate a real interest in listening to and learning from what community members have to say?
What are the origins of each candidate’s call to service?
Would electing a given candidate help to expand the access that historically underrepresented portions of the community have to policy making power?
How do each candidates’ life experiences shape their values and policy priorities?
What attributes do any candidates display that I especially value in a policymaker?
Now, you might be thinking, that’s all well and good, but seriously, isn’t it still all about where folks stand on the issues that matter to you?
To a point, yes. You will not find me voting for any candidate who does not persuade me that they are supportive of LGBTQ rights. Yet issue alignment truly is not the only factor I consider - and as long as candidates pass a reasonable threshold on the issues, other considerations can more than outweigh how perfectly we match up ideologically.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education (four seats)
Let’s look at our current school board race. Best as I can tell, this field of candidates doesn’t have any Meredith Pruitts in the mix. Instead, we have a large field of candidates whose ideological distinctions aren’t huge; there’s nobody who’s easy for me to rule out based on issues alone. Instead, as I’ve learned about each individual in the field, I’ve thought both about the qualities I see and value in each of them, and about the ways those qualities could be combined to assemble a team of board members who, collectively, will best serve our district.
Before I get to my recommendations, I need to add one qualifier: the best any of us can do is gather as much data as we can about the candidates among who we’re choosing and hope our judgements are correct.
So how did I gather my data? This year it’s been an intense week of close attention to this race that’s included:
Attending the October 16th candidate forum (recording here) sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Branch Education Committee, Chapel-Hill Carrboro Association of Educators, and the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham, and Chatham Counties;
Visiting candidate websites;
Having 1:1 follow-up conversations with five candidates who piqued my interest at the forum;
Reading candidate profiles, questionnaire responses, and endorsements;
Discussing candidates with other public school parents and local elected officials whose perspectives I value.
After all that, I’ve identified a slate of candidates who I believe would collectively serve our district especially well. It’s a slate of more than four candidates - fortunately for me, I have another voter in my household who has agreed that we can pool our votes so that everyone on this list gets a vote. I’ve listed them alphabetically by first name, linked to each of their websites, and added something that mattered to me that might not be obvious from other things you can read online about each of them:
Barbara Fedders - I’d heard great things about Barb from many people whose opinions I value, and she still managed to exceed my high expectations at the forum. In particular, she impressed me with her understanding of the importance of working with other governmental entities to solve problems like food insecurity and housing affordability, which are inextricably tied to “school” issues, and with the urgency and legal understanding she brings to figuring out how to provide a safe environment for LGBTQ students in the wake of recent state-level policy abominations.
Honoria Middough - A Durham public schools ESL teacher whose child graduated from CHCCS middle and high school, as well as a NC Association of Educators member, Honor demonstrated her comfort with sharing perspectives that lead her to see the complexity of a topic like School Resource Officers. Talking with her later in the week, I felt heard when I shared my own perspectives on issues, and got a sense of the ways that she’ll value both aggregate data and qualitative input in developing nuanced policy positions. Her ability to communicate in Spanish as well as English is also a plus.
Mariela Hernandez - Mariela’s been on my radar for years, as her name has come up repeatedly in discussions about who might make a good school board member. She has a fantastic reputation among local elected officials who’ve worked with her in her professional capacity at the Family Success Alliance. But most of all, I’m eager to see the district’s many Hispanic immigrants gain representation on the school board and be able to bring their ideas, perspectives, and concerns to someone on the board who shares many of their lived experiences and quite literally speaks their language. (And, yes, I am aware that she initially registered Republican; that’s commonplace among Hispanic immigrants, especially when they register at church. I’ve investigated, and I am more than satisfied that she’s ideologically well-aligned with me in general and solid on LGBTQ issues in particular.)
Meredith Ballew - It’s easy to pigeonhole Meredith at the “EC candidate” - and one could legitimately vote for her on the basis of her deep commitment to that issue alone. But she brings a lot more to the table, including relevant nonprofit experience and public policy training, and her endorsement by Equality NC certainly matters to me at a moment when the safety of LGBTQ+ students at school is under attack. Her Spanish fluency is a plus, but even more, her sensitivity to the challenges the district’s Spanish speakers face when trying to participate in school board matters signals her desire to be a strong ally.
Rani Dasi - The only incumbent in the mix, Rani’s institutional memory and knowledge about how the school system works, along with her professional expertise in finance, are essential to the board. Rani’s the one person on the list who I know fairly well. We often agree on policy matters, but even when we disagree, we listen to one another, and I think it’s fair to say that in the years we’ve known each other we’ve both challenged each other and helped each other grow. I appreciate how she’s pushed me, and how she’s been open to being pushed by others.
Vickie Feaster Fornville - Vickie has been putting in the work for years as a parent volunteer, and her roots in the district go way back; she attended my son’s elementary school when she was a child and has experienced firsthand the obstacles that Black families encounter in our district. I’m a proponent of having an unapologetic community advocate voice on the board, and I applaud her willingness to say out loud that structural racism is hard to root out in part because of who profits from it.
If you’re having as much trouble as I’ve had narrowing the field further, let me encourage you to enter into an agreement like the one I made with my wife and, collaborating with someone else you trust, together vote for all six of my recommended candidates. (I’ll save my many thoughts on alternative decision making processes for another day.) Or choose the four who appeal to you the most - or whoever best fits your criteria.
But before I send you off to make that decision and move on to talk about another race, let me mention one more school board candidate who has earned some endorsements and who impressed me in ways but who I’m not ready to recommend in this electoral cycle: Allison Willis. There’s no question that she’d bring a ton of relevant experience to the table - but with this many other great candidates, I’m hesitant to back a candidate who just moved here in March of 2020 and whose career as an educator has been spent in New York City charter schools. I’m curious to see what involvement she has in the local community over the coming years, and would reconsider her in the future were she to run again.
Carrboro Town Council
In the race for Carrboro Town Council I throw my support behind Catherine Fray, Jason Merrill, and Eliazar Posada, who joined forces to run as the Carrboro Better Together slate. (I’m also a huge fan of Barbara Foushee, our uncontested candidate for mayor.)
I absolutely love how Catherine explained their partnership when talking with Chapelboro: “Eliazar, Jason and I have our own strengths,” said Fray. “We aren’t in lockstep by any means, but I trust them both to always put the public interest first. I’m looking forward to a productive collaboration.”
Their individual strengths and preparation to serve on town council are considerable. Each has served on town advisory boards and, in Posada’s case, on town council; the others vying for the three open seats have no such experience. This factor carries a great deal of weight for me. Prior service on public advisory boards not only demonstrates a sustained investment in putting in the work of showing up and delving into the nuances of local policy decisions - in Catherine’s case, over a decade of service on the Planning Committee - but also has allowed each candidate to build their understanding of the complexities of the issues facing our town and the ways local government functions. Take a look at Catherine’s platform page on their website for a great example of what I mean!
Additionally, each has demonstrated their commitment to making our town more inclusive, especially for those who have trouble making rent, let alone buying a single-family home in this market. I particularly appreciate Jason’s willingness to speak out as a business owner who was strongly in favor of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service building on Main Street, noting his own family history in the process. For Eliazar, whose day jobs have included advocacy for both the Hispanic and LGBTQ+ communities, service on the town council is yet another way he works to create more equitable and inclusive communities.
There are two other candidates in the race, and I struggle with what to say about them. Neither has shown the sustained dedication to local service that I look for in candidates, and both have campaigned in ways that lead me to have less trust in their judgement than I had at the start of the campaign. Fortunately, we have a great slate of three exceptionally well-qualified candidates who we can vote for instead. I hope you’ll join me in doing so!
Chapel Hill Town Council
I’m not a Chapel Hill voter, but I have many friends who are - some who are very well-informed about the race, and others who are looking to me for guidance. From my position on the border of our two towns, this seems to me the most ideologically polarized race of the cycle. Were I to have a vote in Chapel Hill, I’d be voting for Jess Anderson for Mayor, along with Melissa McCullough, Theodore Nollert, Amy Ryan, and Erik Valera.
Given the extent to which the fates of our two towns are intertwined, I care especially deeply about the willingness of these candidates to address the dire need for more affordable housing, as well as their understanding of how building more workforce housing will slow climate change by reducing the carbon emissions required for hourly workers to get to UNC campus, UNC hospital, and other businesses.
That said, I want to be honest with you: The opinions of others who I trust about what’s happening in Chapel Hill are the single biggest factor in who I’d choose for these offices. So go ahead and consider other sources. But please, if you’re looking at endorsements, pay attention to what each organization stands for and what each organizations reveals (or does not reveal) about the process through which they arrived at their recommendations. Whether the Indy agrees with me or not (I haven’t even looked at all their endorsements this year), I always point people to the candidate questionnaire responses, which they publish along with their picks. Triangle Blog Blog (in addition to making their own endorsements) as a roundup of all endorsements in these races as well.
Early voting sites in Carrboro and Chapel Hill will be open starting on Thursday, October 26th (schedule here). Early voting is the only time when you can register and vote in one stop, and it’s the only time you can vote at ANY voting location in the county. I strongly recommend voting during the early voting period (I wrote a whole blog piece on this topic for the NC Center for Nonprofits). Bring photo ID!
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