LESS THAN A WEEK into the 2019 mayoral race, both candidates for office are ramping up hirings within their campaigns.

Incumbent Mayor Joyce Craig has announced the hiring of two staff members — McKenzie St. Germain will serve as campaign manager, while Cayla Eck is aboard as campaign finance director.

“I’m excited to have McKenzie and Cayla join my campaign,” said Craig in a statement. “Their experience working on successful campaigns in Manchester and across the state will be invaluable as we talk with residents about the progress we’ve made, listen to what residents care about, and discuss our plans moving forward. I’m grateful to have two accomplished and talented women leading my campaign.”

Both St. Germain and Eck served on Craig’s successful 2017 campaign for mayor, as organizing director and field organizer, respectively.

Most recently, St. Germain oversaw the successful efforts to win a democratic majority in the NH House as the campaign director for the Committee to Elect House Democrats, and previously managed the organizing program on college campuses for the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic Party coordinated campaign.

Eck served as deputy finance director for Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s 2018 campaign, in which Kuster raised over $3.3 million and was reelected to serve a fourth term in the 2nd Congressional District.

“I’m thrilled to join Mayor Craig’s campaign this year to continue building on the progress that has been made for Manchester during her first term,” said St. Germain. “Mayor Craig has brought much-needed leadership to City Hall, and I look forward to being part of a grassroots campaign focused on continuing to move our city forward.”

Republican former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan, a former assistant house majority leader and Ward 9 resident — and Craig’s lone challenger at the moment — also announced the first members of her campaign’s steering committee.

Manchester businessman Will Infantine, a former state representative from Ward 6 and former chairman of the Manchester City Republican Committee, will serve as campaign chairman, with Sean Thomas, former chief of staff to Frank Guinta during his terms as mayor of the Queen City, on board as campaign treasurer.

Members of Sullivan’s Campaign Steering Committee include: Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann; At-Large Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur; longtime Republican activist Siobhan Tautkus; Ward 8 school board member Jimmy Lehoux; Tom DeBlois, U.S. Army veteran and former New Hampshire state senator representing the 18th District, covering Wards 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9; Ward 5 school board member Lisa Freeman, a former state rep.; Phil Greazzo, former alderman and state representative from Ward 10; and Jon DiPietro, secretary of the Manchester Republican Committee.

“I have seen the great city of Manchester go through many transitions,” said Infantine. “It has been through good years and more difficult ones. Right now, the Queen City is at a turning point where we can either allow it to decline or help it shine again. We need fresh and bold leadership to address the many issues facing our city, which is why we must elect Victoria Sullivan as our next mayor.”

“Victoria Sullivan understands the pocketbook issues impacting our city’s families because her family faces them, too,” said Hirschmann in a statement. “She is someone we can trust to hold the line on spending while still ensuring that we deliver the high-quality services our citizens rightfully deserve. Our residents need that now more than ever. I urge all Manchester residents to join our team to help make Manchester the pride of New Hampshire again.”

“Victoria has the qualities and experience we need to lead Manchester,” added Infantine. “From her work in Concord as a legislator to her dedication to our city’s residents through the many groups and organizations she volunteers with, Victoria has proven her commitment to Manchester’s families. I truly look forward to doing everything I can to help her to become the city’s next mayor.”

Last week’s mess of a mediation session between the school district’s negotiations committee and leaders of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) — which ended early due to scheduling conflicts with union leadership, followed by claims by the MEA of a second mediation session that city officials were unwilling to attend, a claim dismissed as “simply false” by district negotiations committee member Katie Desrochers of Ward 11 — caught the eye of Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines, who sent an email to fellow aldermen asking why the mayor or the board itself couldn’t step in and handle the negotiations.

“I’m troubled by the nastiness and stalemate in regards to the contract negotiation on the school side,” wrote Baines. “I feel that it is adding fuel to an already troublesome narrative that the perception of our schools is worse than the reality. I’m wondering if you have the authority as mayor to take over the negotiation yourself? Or if you could appoint a group of aldermen to try and put this to rest with the MEA.

“Just this morning I had a meeting and was asked to put together a group for the Walk for Hunger and during that meeting I heard that it’s likely that the ten or so school teams that participated last year, will not this year because they are out of contract. Frustrating.”

Reached for comment last week, Craig said she doesn’t have the authority to take over negotiations without a vote from the school board — and said it was inappropriate for aldermen to get involved.

“Our educators deserve a fair and sustainable contract, which is why my tax cap budget included the largest increase in school funding since 2006,” said Craig in a statement. “However, as negotiations are ongoing, it would be inappropriate for anyone, whether it be the mayor, aldermen, or anyone outside of the negotiating teams, to interfere with the process. With the school board voting unanimously to support the efforts of the negotiating committee at Monday night’s meeting, it’s clear the board wants the process to continue without outside interference.”

All five members of the district’s negotiations committee — Desrochers, Lehoux, Rich Girard, Sarah Ambrogi, and Ross Terrio — have signed a letter to school board vice chairman Art Beaudry requesting a special meeting be held April 22 to present to the full board — and the public — the details of the district’s contract offerings to the teachers union.

“We ask this after consultation with our attorney who has advised that under New Hampshire law, we are entitled to release our information because the association’s invocation of mediation is tantamount to a Declaration of Impasse,” writes the committee. Committee members write they refrained from releasing the proposals ahead of the mediation session for fear it might antagonize the union.

“Since then, a litany of rumors and false information has found its way into the dialogue in our schools, social and other media outlets as well as other members in other bargaining units,” writes the committee. “Unfortunately, there have been outright falsehoods released by the MEA to the media and its membership. We regret that things have reached a point where we simply must present the facts and provide all the supporting documentation to the board, the public and every employee of our district to clear the record and, hopefully, see some sort of reset in our relationship (vis-a-vis) the teachers union. We also see it as necessary to ensure the progress we’ve made with other bargaining units is not jeopardized by all the foolish falsehoods making the rounds.”

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.