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Paul Feely's City Hall: On Mayor Craig's new boards, Republicans need not apply

January 06. 2018 10:51PM
Surrounded by family, Joyce Craig is sworn in as mayor of Manchester on Jan. 2, 2018. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

If the first meeting of the new Board of Mayor and Aldermen is any indication, the next two years could be very interesting.

After taking the oath of office last week at the Radisson Hotel, aldermen made their way to City Hall for the first full board meeting under Mayor Joyce Craig. One of the first items of business? Choosing a new chairman to succeed Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, who lost his bid for reelection to Tim Baines.

Two longtime aldermen with strong ties to their respective political parties were nominated for chairman - At Large member Dan O'Neil, a Democrat, and Ward 12's Keith Hirschmann, a Republican.

A vote on the nominees ended in a 7-7 tie with O'Neil, Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Chris Herbert, Tony Sapienza, Bill Barry and Normand Gamache voting for O'Neil and Hirschmann, Baines, Elizabeth Moreau, Bill Shea, John Cataldo, Barbara Shaw, and Joseph Kelly Levasseur in favor of Hirschmann.

Two years ago, a similar situation occurred when votes for O'Neil and Long came in deadlocked at 6-6, with Barry absent and Levasseur abstaining. After consulting with then-City Solicitor Tom Clark on the language of the City Charter, former Mayor Ted Gatsas broke the tie, casting the deciding vote for Long.

At the time, O'Neil said he heard from former officials who were surprised with the city solicitor's ruling.

"That was coming from some former aldermen, going back 25 or 30 years, who were telling me they didn't think the mayor could decide a vote like that," said O'Neil. According to Section 2.08 of the city charter, dealing with the powers and duties of the mayor, "The mayor shall have the power to break tie votes of the board of aldermen, pursuant to R.S.A. 45:9.

Following the 7-7 vote, Craig said she felt it was important for the board to choose its own chairman, and called for a 15-minute recess for members to work things out. After about 20 minutes, a second vote was taken.

The result? An identical 7-7 tie. This time, Craig - a Democrat - stepped in and cast the deciding vote in favor of O'Neil.

Levasseur didn't like it when the mayor broke a tie two years ago, and he didn't like it last week either.

"I think she should have stayed out of it until somebody gave up," said Levasseur.

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In her inaugural address, Craig made a point of speaking directly to aldermen and school board members.

"Let's always keep in mind the trust and hope the people of Manchester have placed in all of us," Craig said. "We come from different backgrounds and bring our own experiences to public service, but we are all united by a love of Manchester. As the voices of your wards, you understand better than anyone the concerns of your constituents. As your mayor, I will learn from you because I will listen to you. My mind will always be open to your ideas, and I look forward to working with you to make our city an even better place to live, work and raise a family."

Then her committee assignments were released - without a single Republican on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen named committee chair.

"The olive branch snapped," said Hirschmann. "I've served under four mayors now. This is the first one that didn't make me a committee chair of anything."

"We're right back to where we were," said Levasseur. "We're back to partisan politics. The mayor broke the tie in favor of her own party. She did not give the two Republicans the chairmanship on any committees, so it looks like it's going to be a long two years of resistance."

"With respect to Mayor Craig's committee assignments on both boards, it would seem she has appointed her political supporters to chairmanships and to committee seats held by her opponents," said At Large school board member Rich Girard. "While that is well within her right, "to the victor goes the spoils," I hope it's not an indication of what she means when she says she will listen to and work with everybody on the issues facing the city and its schools."

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The committee assignments for 2018-2019 are as follows:

Board of Mayor and Aldermen Assignments (first name listed is chair)

Accounts, Enrollment and Revenue Administration: Dan O'Neil, Chris Herbert, Bill Barry, Normand Gamache, Keith Hirschmann

Administration / Information Systems: Tony Sapienza, William Shea, Joe Levasseur, Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart

Bills on Second Reading: Gamache, O'Neil, Sapienza, Elizabeth Moreau, Tim Baines

Community Improvement: Herbert, O'Neil, Sapienza, Stewart, John Cataldo

Finance: Mayor Craig, Barry, vice chairman, and all Aldermen

Human Resources/Insurance: Cavanaugh, Shea, Barry, Herbert, Baines

Lands and Buildings: Shaw, Levasseur, Cavanaugh, Moreau, Cataldo

Public Safety, Health & Traffic: Barry, Shaw, Gamache, Hirschmann, Stewart

2018-19 Board of School Committee Assignments (first name listed is chair)

Athletics: Nancy Tessier, Kelly Thomas, Mary Georges, Lisa Freeman, Dan Bergeron

Building and Sites: Leslie Want, Bergeron, Ross Terrio, Jimmy Lehoux, Rich Girard

Curriculum and Instruction: Sarah Ambrogi, Dave Scannell, Want, Freeman, Katie Derochers

Finance: John Avard, Ambrogi, Scannell, Arthur Beaudry, Girard

Student Conduct: Desrochers, Georges, Terrio, Lehoux, Thomas, Bergeron and Tessier (both Alternates)

Coordination/Administration: Beaudry, Ambrogi, Want, Avard, Derochers, Tessier

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We received several complaints following the BMA meeting, wondering why a majority of aldermen - all but three in fact - disappeared to a back room to try and work out their differences on the chairman vote. Some observers felt doing so violated 91-A because it wasn't a partisan caucus, didn't involve personnel, and involved a quorum of the board on a matter of public business pending on the agenda.

We asked City Solicitor Emily Rice - who attended the board meeting but did not huddle with aldermen - for her take on whether the back-room session violated any rules.

"As I recall it, the mayor did not direct the aldermen to retreat to the lunch room, she simply called for a 15 minute recess," said Rice. "The recess actually lasted closer to 20 minutes, and while I wasn't present to hear what was discussed I don't see any evidence that a violation of the Right to Know law occurred."

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Craig's inauguration ceremony featured a podium built by young women in the "Girls at Work" program, which "empowers girls with the tools to overcome adversity and build confidence to face current and future life challenges," according to the nonprofit's website.

"The girls gave it to me as a gift when I visited them at their workshop this fall," said Craig. "I was inspired by my visit, seeing firsthand how young women are empowered to overcome adversity, build confidence and reach their full potential. I am honored to be speaking from this podium, built by strong, independent, intelligent young women, as the first woman mayor of Manchester. As the girls say, 'building is believing.'"

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Finally, one of the cutest sights on inauguration day was Zeke Stewart - son of new Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart - handing out leaflets announcing his campaign for "Alderkid."

According to the campaign literature, Stewart is a "lifelong resident of Manchester," a first-grader at Smyth Road School, and a "mac and cheese connoisseur."

Stewart promises, "Better playgrounds. Later bedtimes. More dessert."

He has my vote.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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