Saying the city is on a “good track moving forward” and the “timing is right for a new leader to take over,” Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said she will not seek a fourth term this fall.
“It was a bittersweet decision. It’s hard to put into words how much this job — being mayor of Manchester — has meant to me,” Craig, 55, said in an interview Wednesday at City Hall. “It’s the city I was born and raised in. I’m thankful for the trust residents placed in me, and I’ll always be a champion for Manchester.
“I believe now is the right time for new leadership to build off the progress we have made over the past six years and start the next chapter for Manchester.
“I am excited for the future of our city and will consider the best ways to remain involved with our community and in public service.”
Asked repeatedly if she plans to — or has any interest in — running for state or federal office, Craig wouldn’t talk about her plans.
“I’m going to fulfill the rest of my term, the next nine months here, then focus on how to best serve our community,” Craig said.
Craig in 2017 became the first woman elected mayor of the Queen City. She said she enjoys welcoming moms and girls during visits to her office at City Hall.
“They come in to talk to me about being mayor, and I tell them that’s something they can do,” Craig said. “They sit in the chair, or stand behind the podium, and are really interested in the job. I want them to know that if I can do it, they can do it.”
Craig said over her tenure she and city officials have demanded “more accountability from the state” on issues like homelessness, housing and the opioid crisis.
Asked to list a few of the highlights of her three terms, Craig cited several.
• Manchester was awarded $44 million in the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which helped created more than 7,000 jobs in southern New Hampshire.
• The city also received a $25 million RAISE Grant, aimed at making the community safer for pedestrians, bikers and vehicles and connect the Millyard and downtown with South Elm Street.
• School class sizes decreased, violent crime fell by 38% and overall crime by 12% since Craig took office.
One recent moment stands out, Craig said. Shortly after becoming mayor she visited the Waypoint drop in center on Valley Street. The city was considering moving a skate park, Craig said, and she wanted to get feedback from the kids at the center and show them plans for what the park might look like in a new location.
A youth from another country approached Craig, telling her he wanted to go to school for graphic arts, and she helped connect him with the Duet program at Southern New Hampshire University, which offers affordable degree programs.
“He recently graduated,” Craig said. “That to me is something that really…it’s hard to put into words. The mayor of Manchester, from my perspective, one of the valuable things is that you get to make connections and you listen to individuals. I’ve focused on making those connections, and it’s been really fulfilling for me.”
In the past few years, Craig has been criticized for the city’s handling of the homelessness crisis, principally by business owners and residents concerned with encampments around the city.
She pointed out the city created a Department of Homelessness Initiatives to coordinate efforts with nonprofits and business partners, teamed with the YWCA to create a new 16-bed women’s shelter and stood up the first city-run emergency winter shelter.
Manchester also added a director of overdose prevention, as well as new treatment facilities for individuals experiencing both homelessness and substance use disorders.
“Manchester, like every other city in this country, is facing situations with homeless individuals,” Craig said. “I’m grateful for the leadership we have in this city. Bringing everyone around the table to talk through these issues and how we as a community can address them, and that’s what we’re doing now.”
Craig was raised in Manchester on Crystal Lake in Ward 8.
She began her public service in 2007 when she won a seat on the Board of School Committee. In 2009, Craig won a seat as Ward 1 alderman. She and her husband, Michael Craig, an attorney, have three children: William, Sarah, and Kathryn, all of whom attended Manchester public schools.
She is “fourth-generation Manchester” as she puts it, having grown up on Corning Road in the Queen City’s South End.
Although municipal elections in Manchester are nonpartisan, the reality is races for major offices — particularly mayor — typically feature candidates backed by the two major parties.
The mayor’s office was occupied by a steady string of Republicans from 2006 to 2018, when Craig defeated current Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas.
As of Thursday, only one potential suitor has officially declared their candidacy for mayor. Former Republican activist and congressional staffer Jay Ruais has already picked up the endorsements of Gatsas and Gov. Chris Sununu.
Other potential candidates have expressed interest in running in recent months: Victoria Sullivan and Rich Girard appeal to Republican voters, while Aldermen June Trisciani and Will Stewart, former Alderman Dan O’Neil and school board vice chair Jim O’Connell have Democratic support.
None of the prospective candidates has been willing to commit to running prior to Craig announcing her decision. That may change in the coming days.
Craig has some advice for whoever is occupying the mayor’s office come January 2024.
“To rely on the expertise that you have here in the city of Manchester, and to be open to listening,” Craig said. “When I took office there was nothing here for me to review, so from my perspective, whoever wins in that election, I will be open and available to working with that person. The city of Manchester means the world to me, and I want to make sure that whoever is going to be sitting in that seat next understands what we’ve gone through, the progress that we’ve made and the work ahead.”
Voters will decide the Queen City’s next mayor this fall.
The official filing period for the 2023 Manchester municipal election runs from 8 a.m. Monday, July 10 to 5 p.m. Friday, July 21.
The municipal primary election will be held on Sept. 19, with Election Day on Nov. 7.