MANCHESTER — Mayoral challenger Victoria Sullivan railed at Mayor Joyce Craig’s support of a commuter rail service to Boston and the city’s approach to crime and homelessness during their first debate Wednesday.
But Craig came ready to defend herself and called out the former two-term Republican state representative on her voting record.
Sullivan mentioned the city’s crime, opioids and homelessness in her opening statement.
“We are not making progress in the areas we were targeting two years,” Sullivan said.
Craig fought back, saying Sullivan hasn’t outlined an approach to reduce crime and homelessness.
“In less than two years, we’ve made meaningful progress by working on a culture of collaboration and ensuring we are strengthening our schools, improving public safety and growing our economy,” Craig said.
The two answered questions on crime, economic development and homelessness, among other topics, during the hour-long debate hosted by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. About 150 attended.
The biggest clash came over whether to expand a commuter rail line between Boston and the Queen City.
“We’ve studied it, studied it and studied it; I don’t know how much more money we want to put in the study of it,” Sullivan said. “When I talk to employers here, they say the rail will actually lead our young people out of the state, because it pays higher in Boston.”
Craig called the expansion critical to the city’s workforce.
“I’m glad that you’re not at the State House now, because they just did pass a bill to proceed with rail,” Craig told Sullivan. “I don’t appreciate that you voted against it. This is something that Manchester businesses and residents are asking for. We need to continue to study it.”
Craig called public safety her No. 1 priority and recently worked to bring on 15 new police officers.
“We have increased patrols throughout the city and downtown,” she said.
Sullivan said crime is keeping people away from the city and the mayor only recently took action.
“If the city is thriving, beautiful and crime isn’t an issue, why do we have a need for 15 more officers out there?” Sullivan asked rhetorically.
Sullivan called the opioid crisis far-reaching and devastating, with an increase in overdose deaths since last year.
“We need to do something now,” she said. “We can’t wait for studies or task forces; we need to get together with the people who know how to do this work and get it going today.”
Craig said the time it takes to get someone into treatment has decreased from several weeks to two or three days. The number of total overdoses is down, she said.
“We have made progress, but I agree it is not enough,” she said.
Craig called out Sullivan for voting against drug prevention programs for high school students, saying “her record doesn’t show that she supported these efforts.”
Sullivan said she voted against a statewide drug enforcement program known as “Granite Hammer” because it did not provide money for treatment.
As for economic development, Craig touted helping to bring BAE Systems and 800 jobs to the city. Sullivan said as a representative, she voted for tax cuts for businesses to help stimulate the economy.
Sullivan criticized the city’s approach to homelessness.
“We don’t need another task force, we don’t need another committee, we need clear-cut strategies that will help these people where they are at in this city,” she said.
The task force works on issues of panhandling and affordable housing and the city hired a homeless prevention coordinator and brought on more outreach workers, Craig said.
“We need to make sure we are working on these complex issues and to throw a task force under the bus is completely inappropriate when that task force is made up of business leaders, the Chamber and residents in the city of Manchester,” the mayor said.
“These complex issues are not just an issue for the mayor to address, these are community issues that everyone should participate in.”
The nonpartisan city election takes place on Nov. 5, with polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in all 12 wards.