Victoria Sullivan

Mayoral challenger Victoria Sullivan greets voters at the Ward 5 polls at Beech Street School in Manchester on Tuesday.

NOW that the dust has settled, the political signs put away (well, most of them), here are a few post-election tidbits from the tiki bar:

• With Victoria Sullivan losing her mayoral race against incumbent Joyce Craig by more than 2,500 votes, one might think the former state representative and former assistant majority leader in the House doesn’t have a future in Queen City politics.

Not so, says Derek Dufresne of Right Voter LLC, a consultant on Sullivan’s campaign.

“Despite the Democrat spin, I would say that Victoria did well ... really well,” said Dufresne. “Victoria more than held her own.”

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Dufresne points out Craig benefited from stronger name recognition, running in her third citywide general election — in addition to being on a citywide ballot during primaries and Ward 1 ballots as a candidate for school board and alderman over four election cycles.

Dufresne said Craig also received help from the 20-plus Democrats running for president, and the full support and cooperation of the state Democratic Party and its staff.

"She raised over $400k and spent more on TV alone than Victoria did during the whole election," said Dufresne.

“In all honesty, we probably started this race losing 75% to 25%,” added Dufresne. “To close the gap and to get to a place where we did better than most candidates taking a run at first-term incumbents over the past 20 years, is a testament to the hard work that went into this. Victoria should run again because I am confident that this race was a building block that will lead to a win.”

Last week, Sullivan wasn’t ruling anything out regarding her political future.

“I’m not taking anything off the table,” said Sullivan.

• In response to Dufresne’s campaign contributions remark, Craig campaign manager McKenzie St. Germain said the “vast majority” of contributions flowed into their coffers from local donors.

“Our campaign also received support from presidential candidates and their volunteers, as has been standard for mayoral candidates for years,” said St. Germain. “It was something we saw on our opponent’s side as well, with the Trump organization, Gov. Sununu and Republican Senate candidates volunteering and contributing to her campaign. Being the largest city in New Hampshire, Manchester’s success impacts the entire state, and having strong leadership here is important for statewide success.”

St. Germain said Craig’s team was proud of running a campaign focused on “the progress made over the past two years.”

“Despite our opponent’s negative message, we chose to stay positive — and received great responses from voters,” said St. Germain. She points to results showing Craig won with 57% of the vote and increased her win percentage in every ward vs. 2017 results, and won in Wards 6 and 12 — both losses in 2017 — as proof the strategy worked.

“Our campaign focused on the issues voters cared about,” said St. Germain. “As a result, we had meaningful conversations about how we can continue this progress in a second term under Mayor Craig.”

• Dufresne said a side effect of Sullivan’s strong campaign was six fiscally conservative aldermen winning seats. Ten votes are needed to override the tax cap at budget time, and with six of the 14 aldermen backing the cap, it all but guarantees any override attempt falls two votes shy for the next two years.

“I firmly believe that because Victoria ran so hard, with so much grassroots and a broad coalition of support, it really helped get us to six pro-taxpayer aldermen elected (Tuesday),” said Dufresne. “If these six stand together, the aldermen can protect the tax cap and prevent taxes from spiking next budget season.”

One of those aldermen, at-large member Joe Kelly Levasseur, has already dubbed the gang the “Significant Six.” The group includes Levasseur, Jim Roy of Ward 4, Michael Porter of Ward 8, Ross Terrio of Ward 7, Ward 12’s Keith Hirschmann and Elizabeth Ann Moreau of Ward 6.

“We all support the tax cap,” said Levasseur. “We won’t be walked on by a mayor who thinks interrupting duly elected aldermen she disagrees with is appropriate. We aren’t all-powerful, but we are finally, as a group, significant.”

The numbers aren’t available yet, but at first glance last week’s election results suggest turnout by Republican voters was higher than in the September municipal primary. That might explain why Democratic Party activist Gene Martin was the top vote-getter for at-large school seats in the primary, but finished last in the general election.

The numbers also indicate turnout among independent voters was likely much lower this year than in 2017.

Turnout overall was lower than expected, with official results showing 19,724 ballots cast — less than the 22,830 ballots cast in 2017 for “Joyce Craig vs. Ted Gatas: The Sequel,” and less than the 20,198 votes cast in 2015 during “Craig vs. Gatsas, Round 1.”

It will be interesting to see how many registered Republicans voted compared to the September primary, but the early thought is fewer Democrat-friendly independents ventured out to vote than did so four years ago.

• Incumbent Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart enjoyed the largest margin of victory of any city race — 1,520 votes to 365 for his opponent Tyler Chase — to capture 81% of the vote.

“I am humbled and honored by our performance on Tuesday,” Stewart said. “A sincere thank you to everyone whose vote we earned and to everyone who supported the campaign. I look forward to continuing our work to make Ward 2, and all of Manchester, a place that even more people want to move to, not from.”

• Four incumbents lost their seats on the school board last week. In all, nine of the 15 spots on the board will be occupied by new faces come January.

The biggest surprise came in Ward 8, where Jimmy Lehoux lost his reelection bid to retired high school assistant principal Peter Perich, 1,144 to 904.

Late last week, Lehoux — a member of the district’s negotiations team — referred to his two years on the committee as “a humbling and rewarding experience.”

“I learned a valuable lesson from a 14-year-old (that) night: ‘When you say yes to one thing, you also say no to another,’ ” said Lehoux, who fronts a country band bearing his name. “As I walked in the door my son asked me how it went. I told him I lost and his response was, ‘Good, now we can be a family again.’ I realized right then and there the universe had spoken and my attention is needed on my family and my passion to create music. The two things I love the most.”

He thanked his wife and kids for the sacrifices they’ve made so he could attend meetings and events, and said he promised Perich to be available as a sounding board to his successor if needed.

“Like when I perform, as I exit the stage it has always been my hope to leave people with good vibes and feeling better about life,” said Lehoux.

• Two additional incumbents who accepted defeat graciously were Ward 4 Alderman Chris Herbert, who lost to former alderman Jim Roy, and Lisa Freeman, who surrenders the Ward 5 school board seat to Jeremy Dobson.

“I am a progressive democrat,” said Herbert. “I ran as a progressive democrat, and I lost to a conservative democrat by (7) votes. I want to thank all the voters who supported me. They allowed me to serve four years as their alderman, and although not perfect, I never wavered in my support of good government. I worked tirelessly to insure adequate funding for the services my constituents desire and deserve.”

Herbert said he doesn’t plan to ask for a recount.

“(City Clerk) Matt Normand runs a tight election operation, and putting everyone through a recount is unlikely to change the outcome,” said Herbert. “Manchester is a fine and proud city and I am thankful I got to serve four years as alderman.”

Freeman fell 13 votes shy in her reelection bid. Though initially planning to demand a recount, by Thursday Freeman said she had had a change of heart and wouldn’t pursue the matter.

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

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