The Hippo


Jun 2, 2020








Manchester’s race for mayor
Craig and Gatsas on Nov. 7 ballot

By Ryan Lessard

Former Alderman Joyce Craig
What would be your first priority if elected mayor?
In terms of a first priority, I think that we need a mayor who is going to come into Manchester and bring the community together. Right now, if you look at the last eight years, there’s been tremendous mismanagement in the city. So … what I would do is pull the department heads together, pull the board of school committee and the aldermen together, talk about the challenges that I’m hearing when I’m knocking on the doors — which are we are struggling with a serious opioid epidemic, with struggling schools and with mismanagement from a funding perspective — and work with the leaders in our city and with our community to address those.
Let’s start with the opioid epidemic. How would you tackle that?
There are a number of things. Right now, if you look at what’s going on in our schools, there’s virtually no education for students or parents. I think that’s something critical that we need to implement, an ongoing educational program at the elementary schools, middle schools, so that parents and students know the dangers of opioids that are affecting our community. We also need to work hard in terms of Safe Stations. So, what’s happening right now with Safe Station — the firefighters are doing an amazing job helping people who need the services. But 65 percent of the people who are coming to Safe Station right now are from outside of Manchester, so I believe that the mayor of Manchester should be advocating in Concord for additional funding so it’s not taxing the local folks in Manchester. And we have great service providers in the city with Serenity Place, with Farnum Center and Hope, and I believe that there’s an opportunity with the mayor of Manchester to ensure that they’re working together better so we are, again, ensuring that folks are getting the services they need. And a couple last things: one is our mayor of Manchester needs to support and advocate expanded Medicaid. Without that, Safe Station goes away. And lastly, we need to hold landlords accountable for problem properties where drugs are being sold and used and crimes are being committed, and that’s not happening today.
What do you think is the ideal balance between the supply side of the issue, law enforcement, and the demand side of the issue, treatment and recovery?
They absolutely have to work together, and right now, because of a budget that I put forward as an alderman, we have a full complement of police officers on the street today. So, we want to make sure that we keep as many officers on the street as we can. We need to make sure that we’re receiving the grants that are helping us with making sure that we are addressing this issue. But we also need to make sure that we’re providing the treatment and recovery services that people need. But there’s definitely a partnership there and they’re both critical pieces to this.
It appears the city is on the upswing with a tech boom in the millyard, especially. As mayor, how would you capitalize on the revitalization of the city’s economy?
I think that there are good things happening in our city, especially in the millyard with Dean Kamen and ARMI, and what we need to make sure we’re doing is making sure that we’re educating our kids, both in high school and the kids in the colleges so that they can take advantage of the job opportunities that will be in Manchester. I think there’s a great opportunity to make sure that Manchester is attractive to young families, so if millennials are coming here that they want to stay here. So we want to make sure that Manchester is a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. We have to make sure that we work toward making our riverfront accessible and having more opportunities for events there. Public art right now in Manchester is growing, the art community is growing, and I think that having a leader in City Hall who appreciates that is a great thing, and that doesn’t exist today. I pride ourselves in our community and all that the residents have done, from working with Manchester Connects, which is doing the riverwalk and connecting the river to downtown, to the bike sharing program, to identifying and putting in place a cultural district. They did that all on their own with no help from City Hall, so imagine if we had a mayor there who has the vision and energy to help them. We could be doing so much more. And I think that’s what we need to be doing in order to grow Manchester even more.
Looking into the future, what do you think the city should look like in 10 years?
I think that, in 10 years, if Manchester is a welcoming community where people feel safe walking the streets and safe in their neighborhoods, a place where people want to live, work and raise their children, a place that … is known for strong schools, and, again, has this bikeable, walkable, comfortable, inviting environment and with a thriving downtown with retail and with appropriate parking, and with rail.
Do you think commuter rail stops in downtown Manchester would be good for the economy?
I absolutely believe that having rail would be great for the economy. We’ve heard that time and time again, from the residents and from the business owners in the millyard. I look at what Mayor [Jim] Donchess is doing in Nashua and his creative approach to working with private rail service. I think we can’t stop moving forward on an idea because Concord is saying ‘no.’ I, as mayor, would look toward any options that are available to see things through. And I applaud Mayor Donchess for what he’s doing and look forward to see what happens with that. 
If money was not an object, which city service would you want to strengthen the most?
I think I would go to schools with that one. To me, in conversations that we’re having with the community and that I’ve had over a number of years, when there’s a strong public school system, your city thrives. So that’s what I would do. You need to make sure that we are preparing our children for a bright future so that they’re contributing members of our society. And they may move away for college but, again, if they could move back, that’s the best thing that we can ask for. If we can provide a strong foundation for our children, early on, we all win.
What about initiatives to increase energy efficiency or carbon reduction-type programs, kind of like the LED street lights? Would you have any plans like that?
Sure. When I was in the school board, I was instrumental in putting forward an energy efficiency program there, and did the same thing on the city side and was responsible for putting forward the single-stream recycling program. But, as mayor, one of the first things that I’d love to do is put forward an RFP to initiate bids for solar and wind. I look at … an active landfill over on the West Side and, to me, there’s a great opportunity there where we could put solar. And it would generate revenue and taxes for the city. And I also know there are a number of city-owned flat-roofed buildings that we could do the same. So if we could decrease energy costs and reinvest that in the community, I would absolutely agree with that.
Let’s focus a little more on education. Aside from putting more money into the system, what are some of the philosophies or ideas that you would bring to the table to improve the quality of education in the city?
I’d like to say first that I’m a proud graduate of Manchester public schools and two of my children are as well, and I have a daughter who is in eighth grade at Hillside. So I truly believe in Manchester public schools and the opportunities that are provided there but I do believe that we can do better. Some things that I’ve looked at are, one is literacy. Currently, only 29 percent of third-graders in Manchester public schools are reading at grade level. And, when you talk about why that’s happening, there is basically a lack of remedial reading programs across the district. So, a standard program. And there’s very little, if any, professional development for teachers. And to me that’s something that we need to focus on. We need to make sure that our students are reading at grade level and that they’re not progressing and not being able to read because then there’s frustration and eventually they drop out. That would be a big thing that I would like to focus on. And then we saw recently — it’s been going on for a couple of years but it’s been in the paper recently and discussed — that … students in elementary schools don’t have math books. There’s a math curriculum in the city but we have not provided the resources for teachers so that they can teach to the best of their ability to the students. So we need to make sure that they have books, they have workbooks, they have online resources, and, again, the professional development, to make sure that we’re providing our students with … what they need to succeed. And those are a couple of the things that I focus on. I know it’s been discussion of class sizes decreasing, but when you look at surrounding towns and the class sizes that are in those schools, they’re still larger than they should be.
One of the issues that Mayor Gatsas places near or at the top of his list of priorities is taxes. Can you share your approach to taxes and the city tax cap and if you would try to keep to taxes low for the residents?
As the mayor, I would submit a budget that adheres to the tax cap. That’s something that I definitely will do, and what I’ve done as serving as an alderman and running for mayor is looked at sort of where the money’s been spent and what’s been happening. And I … know that under the mayor’s … last eight years, there’s been significant mismanagement and lost revenue. Manchester used to have Auburn, Candia and Hooksett students coming to our school district. And they were wonderful students and brought a … lot of money. And Auburn and Candia left the school district and then Mayor Gatsas ended a long-term contract that we had with Hooksett. It was supposed to end in 2023. He ended it a couple years ago. And, because of that, the city has lost over $15 million in revenue, and that’s really put us in the financial bind that we’re in right now. Again, looking at the solar array, the city had an opportunity to do that a couple years ago and it died at the Executive Council because Mayor Gatsas didn’t want it. And that was a way that we could have brought, again, more revenue and tax dollars into our city so that we can do things. And there have been various lawsuits that have been paid out. So we need new management in the city and somebody who is going to watch where our money is being spent and make sure it’s addressing the needs of our city most effectively, and staying under the tax cap.
Can you clarify what you mean by staying under the tax cap? Would you go so far as to veto a budget that would exceed it?
Well, in order to exceed a tax cap, you need 10 votes from the aldermen. And so, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s vetoed or not, it passes. 
Can you share some of the lessons you’ve learned from your experience on the school board and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that you think have prepared you for the office of mayor?
Sure. I think communication is key and listening is critical and having ongoing conversations and being accessible. When I was an alderman, I would have meetings with constituents, and that was always helpful to hear what their concerns are and so I can better address their needs. That’s something that I would absolutely do, as mayor: have regular meetings, not in City Hall, but getting out in the community, so that people feel comfortable talking to me and that I’m more accessible. 
Ultimately, what do you think the voters should know is the biggest difference between you and Mayor Gatsas?
I think it comes down to management. We’ve had eight years under Mayor Gatsas, and we are still struggling with the same issue. And things have been mismanaged in the city and we’ve lost millions of dollars of revenue. Our taxes have increased and our services have decreased. … I’m hearing this when I knock on doors and talk to people, that it’s time for a change, and I have the background and ability to address our issues in a way that works together with the community and moves our city forward. — Ryan Lessard
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas
What would you say is your first priority as mayor?
Well, the first priorities that I have as mayor is to make sure we keep taxes down. That’s the biggest issue that people are talking about. The opiate and crime issue is the second one and infrastructure and education is third. So, the biggest priority we have is making sure that we live within our means and keep taxes down. 
Let’s dig into some of those. How would you tackle the opioid epidemic?
We meet every … other week with the fire department, police department, health department and EMTs so we can talk about what’s happening in the community over the last week or so. We’ve seen an unusual spike in the opiate overdoses in the last month. But we’re still, year-to-date, we’re still down from where we were last year. So I can tell you that we continue to look at different things and, as I’ve said, the most important issue that we have to look at now is to find these folks houses. Once they go through the treatment process, we’ve got to find a place for them to live. 
How do you balance things like the law enforcement angle as well as the treatment side of things? The sort of supply and demand, if you will.
Well, we’ve got more police officers on the streets now than we ever have. And, again, as the chief has always said, you can’t arrest your way out of this. So we will continue to work putting the two together to make sure that we can have a community that’s safe and a place that the folks who have the disease can find recovery. 
How would you capitalize on the revitalization of the city’s economy?
If you take a look at the city of Manchester, revitalization is underway. It’s been underway for a while. And there’s a lot of great things happening in the city. There are 92 apartments that are right across the street [from City Hall] at the Citizens Bank. I believe they’re at 100-percent occupancy. The old Ted Herbert’s building was just closed on this week. They’re looking to put another restaurant on the first floor and 30 apartments above it. So Manchester is thriving. It’s no secret, especially when you see in the Boston Globe, the article that they did last week, about how the city of Manchester is a well-kept secret and how it’s growing and the initiatives that are happening in this community. So I look at it and say all you’ve got to do is walk down, either on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or even a Monday or Tuesday, and see how exciting it is downtown. … They talk about the infrastructure and we certainly invest in our roads, and those are going well. And I think that if we have additional revenues that come into the city, that’s something that we need to take a look at. But the taxes have to be kept in mind. We just can’t continue to tax them out of their houses. Because that’s what they’re most concerned with. If you talk to 10 people on Elm Street, they’ll tell you taxes is their No. 1 issue.
Looking into the future, what do you think the city should look like in 10 years?
I can only tell you that it doesn’t take much to take a look at the millyard. And the exclamation point that was just put on there in the last few months was the ARMI project that Dean Kamen’s bringing to the city. I think that that’s going to change the millyard once again and make it a very high-tech community and it’s going to certainly expand into the gaslight district that we have here in Manchester and follow up into Elm Street. I think that’s going to be the exciting thing that’s going to change the entire city of Manchester once again.
Do you think commuter rail stops in downtown Manchester would be good for the economy?
Well, somebody’s got to first tell me how it’s going to be paid for, because the last rail project that we were just talking about a couple of weeks ago was going in by the airport and not downtown Manchester. So that’s the first thing that we need to understand is how is it going to be paid for.
If money was not an object, which city service would you want to strengthen the most?
Money is always an object. And, again, we can’t continue to tax the taxpayer like we have buckets of money that we can just spend, because that’s not the case. We need to learn to spend within our means. … If you can tell me that tomorrow that we will have a bucket of money on Elm Street, I’d assume that we’ll spend it. 
What about infrastructure?
We’re already working on infrastructure. I proposed $20 million in spending over the last five years to do our roads. We just put … $1.5 million into Elm Street and people are just really excited about how great it looks and how the city is looking and how we’ve eliminated an awful lot of potholes, and we will continue doing that over the next three years.
Would you plan on any more energy efficiency or carbon reduction-type programs, kind of like the LED street lights?
Kind of like the LED lights, [that’s] something that I championed from Day 1. And certainly, we’ve taken our costs from $1.3 million that we used to spend on … our street lights … down to about $800,000. So I can tell you that we will continue looking at that, we will continue to look to see if we can’t buy solar from one of these big projects that are being put out in the state of New Hampshire. And, who knows, maybe we’ll get somebody to look at our landfill again to give us a reasonably good deal.
Let’s turn to education for a moment. Broadly speaking, what philosophies do you have for looking at ways to improve the quality of education in the city?
I can tell you that if you look at some of the things that I’ve brought forward over the last few years [like] the School of Technology, MST, is the only high school in the state of New Hampshire that a child can go in, learn to become a plumber or welder, and come out and be ready for jobs, for work [on] Day 1. I think that’s what’s most important to give — not everybody is going to college. And we have to make sure that we have students who are ready and are able to go to work on Day 1 in various different professions: cosmetology, the cooking industry. There’s so many things that are offered at the School of Technology, for students.
So your philosophy would be to do more stuff like that, maybe focusing on the STEM fields?
In Manchester, Ryan, it’s called STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics]. … And I can tell you that we brought that forward. We now have the robotics competition in every one of our schools, that I brought forward with Dean Kamen, to make sure that every student in the fourth grade gets to go to the SEE Science Museum at no cost, and they have a robotics program once a week in their classrooms. … I think that it’s important that every student, when they graduate high school, can go on and be productive members of our community, whether they’re going off to college or they’re staying right here to go to work, and I think that’s what’s most important. I take a lot of value in our students’ education. Every student from the sixth grade to the 12th grade, when they make the honor roll, I send them a letter and congratulate them and personally sign every single one of those letters.
Is there another issue that we haven’t brought up that you think the city should look into more?
Well, I think there are different issues that, as you see the neighborhoods, every neighborhood has something different. So it’s about going through the neighborhoods and meeting with the people who are in the neighborhoods and what are their concerns. And I think, when you talk to them, crime is an issue and our statistics according to [Manchester Police] Chief [Nick] Willard, crime is down, in the city of Manchester, over last year. So, certainly, I know the men and women in the police department are doing a great job. Safe Station is an incredible story. [It’s] something that we started almost a year and a half ago and over 2,500 people have come through Safe Station. So that’s a story that they’re talking about. I know that [Manchester Fire Department] Chief [Dan] Goonan was in Washington to talk about it just this week. And that’s important, I think, that when you have a new idea, and certainly every week when we meet, we talk about new ideas and what we can bring forward.
During your campaign for governor last year, I’m sure you had an opportunity to talk to a lot of people across the state. Afterward, did you walk away with any new insights from talking with voters on the campaign trail?
What I’ve learned is that not only is Manchester a great city, but the state of New Hampshire is a great state and there’s a lot of great people in it. The people here in New Hampshire don’t have a problem talking with you and giving you what they think are the ideas that you should move forward with. And I can only tell you that what I learned … is that spending is a big issue to everybody. … And that’s one reason that I ran for governor, [because] there was so much downshifting from Concord to the City of Manchester and our costs. And that was an important issue and some of the things that we’ve done here when it came to health care, I thought we could bring them to Concord and … govern from there.
Ultimately, what do you think the voters should know is the biggest difference between you and your opponent, Joyce Craig?
Well, there’s no question that there’s a big difference. They can trust me to make sure that taxes stay under the tax cap and that I will veto any budget that comes in over the tax cap. I know my opponent is going to say she’s going to submit a budget by the tax cap, but the charter requires you to do that. The question is, will she veto a budget above the tax cap? — Ryan Lessard

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