Last week we broke the news that a group of wealthy local homeowners were organizing to dump $120,000 into a single-issue Political Action Committee (PAC) to support Adam Searing’s mayoral campaign by piggybacking onto his and his like-minded council candidates’ vehement opposition to Chapel Hill’s mild housing reforms adopted in June.

We wondered what the candidates running for mayor and council in Chapel Hill thought about this unprecedented effort. We reached out to each candidate over email. Many candidates responded on social media, their campaign newsletters, or through email. We asked for any general comments they had, and posed two specific questions:

  • Do you think that it’s good to have a dozen families put more money into the election campaign than all the candidates combined may raise?
  • Will you accept their support, or do you disavow it?

Here’s what they said:

Jess Anderson, candidate for mayor

Anderson responded in an issue of her campaign newsletter:

This PAC has one goal:

To buy the upcoming municipal election for my opponent and his slate of four individuals.

Why? Because they fear our housing choice policy – which was passed through a fair, democratic process and input from our entire community – will “degrade” their neighborhoods. And, if elected, my opponent – and his slate of four individuals – have promised to overturn it for them.

To put the money in perspective, $120,000 is 5 times more than any single candidate has spent in recent electoral history. It’s also 10 times more than CHALT’s PAC spent during the entire 2015 cycle.

It’s chilling to see the types of shenanigans we decry at the national and state level happening in our town.

I believe Chapel Hill is better than this.

Regardless of where you stand on Housing Choice — or any of the difficult decisions we’ve made over the past few years – I hope you’ll support me and the other candidates who want to keep integrity at the forefront of Chapel Hill politics.

Adam Searing, candidate for mayor

Searing did not respond to an emailed request for comment. However, on his campaign website, at the top of the issues page he has a statement, in bold and underlined, stating: “To start with, my campaign for Chapel Hill Mayor does not coordinate with PACs — full stop.” He made a similar statement in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

David Adams, Town Council candidate

Adams did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Breckany Eckhardt, Town Council candidate

Eckhardt did not respond to an emailed request for comment

Jeffrey Hoagland, Town Council candidate

Hoagland sent the following to TBB in response to an emailed request for comment:

I have not heard of this PAC before but you seem biased against it, so I do not trust your presentation of them.  People can spend money on what they want and I do not accept money from people I have not talked to.  I oppose the changes to Chapel Hill housing ordinance as similar changes in the past have resulted in people getting kicked out of their rentals and their home. 

Melissa McCullough, Town Council candidate

McCullough emailed the following to TBB:

I am sorely disappointed by revelations that a small group of wealthy homeowners plans to spend over a hundred thousand dollars to sway our local elections this fall. I am doing the hard work that running for office should require: knocking on doors, making phone calls, and sharing my positive vision for Chapel Hill’s future. I know that many of my fellow candidates are doing the same. That’s the work that should earn you elected office: not PAC money from a wealthy few. I urge all my fellow candidates to condemn this interference in our democratic process, and I urge all voters to evaluate each candidate—on their goals for our town, their skills and experience, and their ability to work as a team to find beneficial solutions to our Town’s challenges.

Jon Mitchell, Town Council candidate

Mitchell sent this to TBB:

$120,000 is a lot of money, which reflects the challenge of convincing voters to get excited about overturning an incremental policy change designed with great sensitivity to existing single-family neighborhoods (like mine). In contrast, my campaign focuses on big issues that affect the broadest swath of Chapel Hill residents. Voters will discern the difference.

Theodore Nollert, Town Council candidate

Nollert sent this comment to TBB:

Chapel Hill is a small town. I am disappointed that some residents hope to inject vast sums of dark money into this race. That money will make it harder for people like me to find representation on the Council: renters, young people, those making less than six figures (or, in my case, less than $30,000!) and all sorts of other folks who can’t count on rich friends to put $6,000 each toward their town council race. 

I’m going to run the same community-driven campaign that I always planned to. That means thoughtfully listening, spending time knocking doors, making calls, and being immersed in the life of our Town and our University. It’s the right thing to do!

Amy Ryan, Town Council Candidate

Incumbent council member Ryan sent the following comment to TBB:

Chapel Hill has always valued big goals, not big money, in our local elections. It’s appalling that a small group of well-heeled donors, angry at the town’s decision to allow modestly increased density in single-family neighborhoods, would plan to spend unprecedented amounts of cash to co-opt the election.

This effort flies in the face of democracy, inclusion, and progress. Its goal is to allow the few to buy the Council they want. That’s not who we are, and not how we build a strong Chapel Hill for the future. During this election season, we need to come together, debate the issues honestly, allow all voices to be heard, and make sure we get to the polls on November 7. 

Elizabeth Sharp, Town Council candidate

Sharp said the following in an email to TBB:

It’s illegal for candidate campaigns to coordinate with PACs, and so therefore I have not and will not.  

Renuka Soll, Town Council candidate

Soll did not respond to TBB.

Erik Valera, Town Council candidate

Valera did not respond to TBB.

Other community leaders

Here’s what some other community leaders said in response to TBB’s story.

Town Council member Karen Stegman wrote on X/Twitter that “This is truly appalling. Remember how the current Council was accused many times this past year of being “undemocratic” because we were (mostly) in agreement on a policy direction? I’m pretty sure buying an election is the actual definition of undemocratic.”

Council member Michael Parker said on X/Twitter: “They want to buy the election and buy themselves a Council. We can’t allow that to happen.”

Council member Paris Miller-Foushee said on X/Twitter: “Excellent reporting by @triblogblog… Historic disparities we see are systematic…Chapel Hill deserves policy makers working to build inclusive community for ALL & who will fight for the historically marginalized…NOT those doing the bidding of a wealthy landholding hierarchy.”

Council member Tai Huynh told TBB: “The most concerning to me as a Chapel Hillian is not the fact that a handful of ultra wealthy landowners in Town think they can buy the election, it’s the fact that they’re funneling these funds into spreading misinformation and misleading information. Everyday Chapel Hillians who don’t have the privilege, time, and/or resources to read into all the nuances of these complex policies can easily be misled by these misinformation campaigns. This is not who we are as a Town, and I think it’s important that we discuss challenges and policies with integrity and in an open manner.”

State Senator Graig Meyer said on X/Twitter: “This is one of the most disturbing examples of entitlement I’ve seen in Chapel Hill. A blatant attempt to turn wealth into power, in order to make an exclusive town even more so. I believe that Chapel Hill’s voters are smarter and more caring than this.”

You can see all of the responses here.

Make your 2023 municipal election voting plan

Beginning with the 2023 municipal elections, North Carolina voters will be required to show photo ID when they check in to vote. Voters who vote by mail will be asked to include a photocopy of an acceptable ID when returning their ballot by mail.

Check your voter registration now. You can look it up here. This is really important particularly if you’ve moved in the past year.

Make a plan to vote during early voting.
This ensures that if there’s a problem, you can sort it out. Early voting runs from October 19-November 4. Here is the complete schedule of voting sites, dates, and times for Orange County.

Read about the new voter ID requirements. Every vote counts in North Carolina, and this information must be shared early and often. If you know of people who have just moved here, or students, or new neighbors, please let them know about registering and the voter ID requirements.

Read all of Triangle Blog Blog’s 2023 election coverage

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Geoff Green, AICP lives in Chapel Hill. In his day job he's a practicing urban planner; in his spare time he rides his electric bike around town and advocates for improved facilities so that everyone can...