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Looking back at 2017: A changing of the guard for NH politicians

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 23. 2017 5:55PM
Joyce Craig arrives at Webster School in Manchester before casting her ballot Nov. 7. She was elected as Manchester's first female mayor. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



Editor's Note: As 2017 comes to a close, the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News take a look back at some of the top stories in a year marked by unspeakable crime, sex scandal, political milestones and business achievements. This is the first in a series spotlighting the year's leading news events.

MANCHESTER - The year began and ended with some political breakthroughs for both major parties in New Hampshire.

The close of 2017 approached with the election of Joyce Craig as Manchester's 48th and first female mayor in the city's history.

"People are excited," said Craig. "They are ready for a change in leadership in the city."

She'll kick off 2018 with her inauguration at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester on Jan. 2.

The rematch between Craig and four-term Mayor Ted Gatsas, a Republican, was far and away the most anticipated contest in New Hampshire for the quietest season that takes place every four years, the odd-numbered one that always follows a presidential election.

All observers expected a titanic struggle after Craig had lost two years ago by 65 votes. The vote went to a recount.

But this time, there was no doubt on election night as the largest turnout in a decade handed Craig a decisive, 1,499-vote victory. Craig won nine of the city's 12 wards.

"I am the mother of two daughters, and they were with us Tuesday night," Craig told the Union Leader's Paul Feely in her first major interview after the victory.

"It's so nice every little girl in Manchester, or young woman here growing up, knows that this is an option available to them and that anything is possible. I didn't win two years ago and came back and worked really hard and our hard work paid off. I think it's a great message for everybody, but I don't feel added pressure at all. It's great that it happened, but it's done. The hard work is ahead of us, and I look forward to doing it."

A Manchester native, Craig is a former school board member and alderman with more than a decade of public service before becoming the city's top administrator.

This also ended 12 years of Republican control of the mayor's office in these non-partisan elections.

It was also believed to be the first time in nearly 50 years that the state's three largest cities - Manchester, Nashua and Concord - all have had Democratic mayors.

Craig said that, in addition to battling the opioid crisis, improving the quality of public education and supporting law enforcement, she wanted to improve the "decorum" at city meetings and bring the office closer to the people by holding office hours outside of City Hall.

Gov. Chris Sununu is sworn in by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis with his wife, Valerie, by his side at the State House in Concord on Jan. 5. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

In the first week of 2017, Republicans got to celebrate the inauguration of Chris Sununu as governor, the first GOP candidate to take the corner office in 14 years.

Sununu became the 82nd governor of the state and the youngest one in the country.

He also became part of the second father-son duo as governors in the past century in New Hampshire.

During the 1980s, John H. Sununu served three terms before stepping aside and eventually becoming White House chief of staff.

The other father and son team were Hugh and Judd Gregg who served as governor 34 years apart.

While Democrats held every seat in an all-female congressional delegation, the younger Sununu had Republicans holding all the levers of power in Concord and it showed.

Sununu didn't get everything he wanted. The GOP-led House handed him an early embarrassment by rejecting the bill he backed to make New Hampshire a Right to Work state. The bill aimed to outlaw unions that make all employees pay fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining.

But legislators did adopt a two-year state budget close to Sununu's outline, which includes the first state aid program to support full-day kindergarten; repeal of a permit to carry a concealed gun; and significant spending of past budget surpluses for water infrastructure, school and highway construction projects.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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