Incumbent commissioners defeated
By Taylor Sisk
With three seats on the Orange County Board of Commissioners being contested in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, voters signaled a desire for change. Challengers Penny Rich and Mark Dorosin edged out incumbent Pam Hemminger for the two seats available in the District 1 race, and challenger Renee Price easily defeated incumbent Steve Yuhasz for the one open seat in District 2.
While Price will now go up against Republican Chris Weaver in the November general election, there is no Republican challenger to the District 1 seats. Democrat Bernadette Pelissier, who was unopposed in the primary, will face Republican challenger Mary Carter for one available at-large seat.
In District 1, Dorosin, a former member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, finished with 10,474 votes (36 percent); Rich, a Chapel Hill Town Council member, 9,709 (33 percent); and Hemminger, 9,167 (31 percent).
In District 2, Price earned 6,237 votes (67 percent) and Yuhasz received 3,099 (33 percent).
“I’m just ecstatic,” Price told a crowd of Democrats gathered Tuesday night at The Depot in Hillsborough. “I’m almost at a loss for words.”
The District 1 race was tight all night, with Dorosin maintaining a slight lead throughout and Rich just barely holding off Hemminger.
“I kind of expected it to be tight,” Rich said. “All three of us have name recognition.”
Of her decision to jump from the Chapel Hill Town Council to the board of commissioners, Rich said, “It just hit me in the face that the time was right,” citing her perception of an “unnecessary wedge between city and rural folks” that she felt she could help remove.
“I thought it would be good to have someone on the board with a municipal perspective,” she said.
Communications between the commission and the municipal boards must be improved, and the interests of rural and municipal residents shouldn’t be viewed as mutually exclusive, Rich said. “We benefit from each other.”
Both Rich and Dorosin said they felt that, especially if Price wins in the general election, the board would be charting a new course.
“I think what the commission really needs is to be re-energized,” Dorosin said, “and I hope I can provide that.”
“My experience as a civil rights lawyer I think will be invaluable,” Dorosin, who is senior managing attorney with UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, continued, “and my experience as a longtime business owner in downtown Chapel Hill I think will bring a practical perspective that’s been missing.”
“I think the people of Orange County need more contact with their commissioners,” Rich said.
Dorosin agreed: “Leaders who are committed and have vision and are listening to the priorities and the needs of the community can make positive, meaningful, effective change.”
But that can’t be done without community engagement, he said. “That’s something I hope to make a priority.”
“We pride ourselves in this community on a high level of political engagement, which we have,” Dorosin said, “but I think we have it from a fairly narrow spectrum of the people who live here, and hopefully I can help broaden that spectrum.”
Yuhasz said on Wednesday that while he didn’t feel his and Hemminger’s defeats could be attributed to a general anti-incumbent impulse, he did believe that the commission has asserted itself in the past couple of years to an extent it hasn’t in the past – noting, as an example, an easing of land-use restrictions – and that perhaps people in the southern part of the county haven’t appreciated that. This, he said, probably hurt Hemminger, whose district covers that population.
“I think it will be a much different board than it has been,” Yuhasz said. “We’ll go back to the way things were done for 25 years,” prior to this commission.
Dorosin cited reparations for the Rogers Road community and finding a solution for the county’s solid waste as his top priorities.
Rich listed the same priorities, plus education and mass transit. “We must put mass transit on the block for people to understand,” she said.
“But the biggest issue is really bridging the rural-city gap,” Rich said. “It’s really about communications.”