My husband, Adam Searing, is running for Mayor of Chapel Hill. As the campaign has become increasingly acrimonious, I wanted to share a few thoughts and let you get to know Adam a bit better.
During my PhD program I took a few classes over at UNC Law. As a social work PhD, I held my own, but it was a foreign environment and one day an argument broke out between me and a mansplainy fella on the front row. Tongue-tied, I was not sure where to go next to make my point. Adam spoke up from three rows back, “I think what Mimi is trying to say is ________,” making the point: clear, concise, correct, irrefutable, neutralizing the obnoxious fellow while amplifying my voice.
At the coke machine I thanked him. He responded with a lunch invitation to the Carolina Coffee Shop. There was something in the way Adam listened and asked questions, he was a caretaker, someone who thought of others more than himself. In those first moments it was an intuition, but when he announced he had a kite for us to fly before our class on what is now Hooker Fields, my intuition got a vote of confidence. Six weeks later, I had dream in which he stood in scrubs and a mask next to a hospital bed as I delivered a baby. Years later when I actually was delivering our first born, he was in an aqua colored shirt – just like the scrubs- and a mask because of a sore throat.
In those early days, he fixed my bicycle and brought me printer paper when I’d run out. We walked with our respective dogs on every known and secret Chapel Hill trail. One winter day he retrieved me from an accident in the snow; I saw him running up MLK boulevard although the fender bender hardly warranted that. New friends, that have now been with us through all the ups and downs of life, dubbed him “rookie of the year” the first time we attended what is now an annual mountain party. The power had gone out and 50 people needed dinner. Adam had a camp stove in the back of his station wagon and thus we all had a hot meal. As the relationship took off, my oldest friends, who had seen me through a range of relationships urged me on. “Don’t mess around with the indecisive Hamlets. Date the nice guy. Date the guy with the kite.”
The guy with the kite is running for Mayor and my advice to you is to choose him. For the last 30 years, I have watched Adam bring people together to solve hard problems and stand up in situations where others could or would not. He is a fierce advocate and adversary, it is true. He is also someone who will spend time with anyone who wants to talk with him about the issues, even if they don’t come to agreement in the end. Long before I knew him, he organized his fellow students to protest the demise of the philosophy department at the University of Florida. As an 18-year-old, he stood up to a bank teller who cashed his check without question, but would not do the same for the woman of color beside him.
Soon after we were married, Adam, a wet-behind-the-ears Carolina Law graduate and the director of the North Carolina Health Access Coalition, brought a wider coalition together to fight Blue Cross Blue Shield when its executives wanted to convert to a for profit entity, ensuring lovely golden parachutes for themselves. To start that movement, he had to publicly question the conversion plans in front of the powerful North Carolina Senate Majority Leader and kingmaker, Tony Rand. The room went quiet before Majority Leader Rand’s booming drawl filled the cigarette smoke filled air. “Adam, if you think this is illegal, you can call the attorney general, you can call the News and Observer, or you can call your mother.” The conversation was over. But, Adam’s courage combined with knowledge gleaned from reviewing the early BC/BS documents in the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library inspired others to come forward and The Coalition for the Public Trust was born. The Coalition defeated the conversion and, in the process, Adam and Majority Leader Rand began a friendship that never precluded them being sometime adversaries while maintaining respect and cordiality.
Along the way in his career, he led the Covenant for North Carolina’s children which resulted in the North Carolina passing the Child Health Insurance Program. He travelled all over North Carolina to help citizens understand The Affordable Care Act which led to a citation as a Champion of Change from the Obama White House. To say I admire him and have learned from him is a huge understatement.
Often, we approach voting by choosing the person we agree with on every issue. But what I learned during my three years as Chair of the UNC- Chapel Hill Faculty, is that even people who think they agree with you, sometimes don’t. And, more importantly, no one knows what moments a leader will be asked to meet. The next Mayor, Governor, Chair of your department, or CEO will be asked to address problems not yet imagined. The wet lab leak. The climate disaster. The hazardous waste spill. The mass shooting. The water contamination. The unimaginable events that seem to be befalling us more and more.
Although they’re not often cited in the leadership books, a cool head, a listening ear, a sharp mind, and an open heart are what makes a strong, fair, equitable leader. We think in binaries – either this policy or that one – but a real leader knows there are lots of ways to solve any problem and just as many ways to make them worse. The right thing to do almost always is to open the possibilities, find a wider array of choices. What never works is ramming decisions through without listening to the people who live with them. We’ve had enough of that in Chapel Hill.
Our friends say -and only half-jokingly – when the apocalypse comes, they want to be with Adam. Me too. There are few people who can stay clear-headed and get together the relevant people and information to find a way through an uncertain landscape.
Call him up if you want to know why he thinks the way he does on the issues important to you. You may not come to consensus, but he will respect what you say and listen to you. He will meet and talk with anyone who wants to talk with him. He will get information and put it out into the world. What he won’t do is shout personal attacks on social media or argue complex issues in 240 characters. Vote for the guy who listens, who fights hard and fair, who reads every word of the 800-page agendas that come before the town council, who does the background research to understand the issues, and who will stand up with you no matter who you are.
Years ago, Adam sent my dad a chapter from an old book describing the landscape and topography of Chapel Hill. My father replied in a hand-written letter. “Adam,” he wrote, “You, like me, know every wood, trail, and rivulet of your hometown. I remember the woods, fields, and trees of my childhood even though it has been so many years since I have been there.” A poignant reminder that landscapes shape us in ways we can’t always articulate. This landscape has shaped Adam– he knows every trail and stream and he knows that once they are gone, we can’t get them back. Growth is needed and indeed, inevitable. But it is worth thinking long and hard about how, when, and where. Our town should do that thinking together in open meetings where people’s voices are heard and respected. Vote for the guy who loves the woods, who loves Chapel Hill, who loves me. Vote for the nice guy, the one with the kite.