After being recruited by local Democratic leaders, elected officials and community advocates, Jeff Starkweather of Pittsboro has decided to seek election to the new open State House seat representing Chatham County and the Sanford area. He announced his plans Thursday at the Chatham County Democratic Party Executive Committee meeting.
Starkweather has lived and worked in Chatham for 40 years. He is a well known community advocate and retired civil rights attorney and newspaper publisher. He currently serves on the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation Board and the Triangle South Workforce Development Board. He previously served as Chair of the Chatham County Affordable Housing Advisory Board and as a member of the Sustainable Energy and Green Building Advisory Board.
“I am honored and humbled to be able to run for this new seat,” Starkweather said in making his announcement. “ I was drafted by the local leadership of the Democratic party. I had planned to run for Chatham County Commissioner, but I was willing to step aside in that race to avoid being in a contested primary against incumbent Mike Cross, and also, frankly, because I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for me to run for the State House.
“ I am grateful and excited about the enthusiastic endorsements I’ve already received from current and former county commissioners and school board members, as well civic leaders from diverse communities in both Chatham and Lee counties,” he added. “Finally, I realized it’s a chance to work on behalf of a ‘Fair Deal’ for all citizens, so that we may prosper together despite the global recession. I look forward to the opportunity to seek innovative ways to engage the public and private sectors to enhance our economy, our environment, and our public education system from pre-school all the way through community colleges and universities. If we do that we can create a fair and democratic society in which people who put their best foot forward can succeed.”
Starkweather was editor and publisher of the award-winning Chatham County Herald from 1972 to 1984. He served as an attorney from 1989 until his retirement in 2007, specializing in civil rights law. He successfully represented many working people, including minorities, women and persons with disabilities, in cases involving employment discrimination in government agencies and large corporations. In addition to his private practice in Pittsboro, he served as a public defender in the U.S. Middle District Courts and as a special attorney for the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities, where he successfully won wheel chair access to the Siler City Post Office. He also has donated legal services to many citizens groups and the Democratic Party, including a successful effort to overturn the local Board of Election’s refusal to open a North Chatham early voting site in 2006.
“I have spent my entire career speaking up for fair treatment for local people and communities,” Starkweather said. “For example, it was our little weekly newspaper that in 1978 broke the story of a secret agreement between the county commissioners and the state to dump in the county landfill the toxic PCBs that had been illegally sprayed along roadsides throughout the central part of the state, including Chatham. Our stories and editorials stopped the deal in its tracks and the chemicals were soon removed from our roadways.”
Starkweather co-led a grassroots political action committee that helped oust the pro-development Chatham county commissioner board chaired by Bunkey Morgan in 2006. Following that election, The Raleigh News and Observer named Starkweather the Tar Heel of the Week for his leadership in that campaign. In 2009, he was named a Citizen of the Year by the West Chatham branch of the NAACP.
“I understand what middle-class and working people are up against in today’s economy,” he said. “My parents are devout Baptists now retired and in their 90s. They came from modest means and worked hard their entire lives to ensure their children could graduate from college and get good jobs. My siblings and I were the first generation in our family to attend college.”
Starkweather was raised in Ojai, California. He has a B.A. in political science and economics from Redlands University and a J.D. from the School of Law at N.C. Central University. He also studied social work and planning at the graduate level at George Washington University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He has been married to Dee Reid for 26 years. She is director of communications for UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. She also publishes a blog about local sustainable farming and food enterprises, and she serves on both the Pittsboro and Chatham County parks and recreation advisory committees.
Starkweather’s two children, Sampson and Emily, attended public schools in Chatham County, graduating from Northwood High School. Sam Starkweather is a poet who works at the City University of New York. Emily Tinervin is a teacher at Pittsboro Baptist Pre-School and lives in northeast Chatham with her husband Scott, and their two children, Ryan, 6, and Emery, 4.
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Endorsements by current and former elected officials:
Sally Kost, current Chatham County Commissioner, former chair
George Lucier, former chair, Chatham County Commissioner
Carl Thompson, former chair, Chatham County Commissioner
Tom Vanderbeck, former Chatham County Commissioner
Gary Phillips, former Chatham County Commissioner
Delcinia Turner, current member, Chatham County Board of Education
Flint O’Brien, current member, Chatham County Board of Education
Kathie Russell, former chair, Chatham County Board of Education
James Womack, former chair, Lee County Board of Education
Pamela Baldwin, Mayor Pro Tem, Pittsboro
Beth Turner, member, Pittsboro Town Board