MANCHESTER — City voters will head to the polls next week to cast ballots in the 2019 municipal primary election. Primaries for school board and alderman exist in several wards across Manchester, along with the citywide mayoral race.
Primary races exist for alderman seats in wards 5, 7, 11 and the At Large seats. Races exist for seats on the Board of School Committee in Ward 6 and the two At Large seats. Three candidates are running for mayor.
The New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News sent three questions to alderman and school board candidates to provide a short profile on them. Candidates were asked to limit responses to 100 words or less. Not all candidates responded.
Today’s Union Leader presents the first in a multi-day series showcasing those responses. Responses from mayoral candidates are scheduled to run Sunday.
The questions we asked:
1. Issues: What is the top issue facing the city/schools, and how will you address it?
2. Downtown: Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If yes, why? Or if not, how will you change that?
3. Taxes: Do you support a tax cap override to fund salary increases for city and school district employees?
Today’s responses are from candidates for alderman and school board At Large seats.
Alderman At Large
Kathryn “Katie” Desrochers, 48, two daughters, Abigail and Rachel. Legal assistant at a Manchester law firm.
Issues — Manchester’s top issues are underfunding of public schools, the increasing homeless population and the opioid crisis. In order for public schools to succeed in Manchester, more money must be appropriated to the district so that it is able to fund the programming it desperately needs. Homelessness and the opioid crisis are not just Manchester’s problem; this is a state and federal problem, but in Manchester we are proactively working toward effective, long-term solutions. We have Safe Stations along with the task force on homelessness that continues its work to problem solve and help address the serious issues facing our city.
Downtown — The downtown is extremely healthy and successful! There are so many great restaurants, and, places to go like the Palace Theater, The Bookery, and the soon-to-open Rex Theater. I know that a lot of negative light has been cast over the downtown having homeless people on the sidewalks and it is true that there are homeless people congregating there, but in my opinion it does not take away from downtown being a great place to go out at night or during the day. The car show was there last weekend, and it was a hugely successful and safe event.
Taxes — Overriding the tax cap is a very serious matter because it impacts the residents of Manchester directly. I believe that when a budget is put together it takes into consideration all measures of running the city and running the school district effectively, and salaries are a big part of that budget. In order to effectively run the city, I would support a tax cap override, because I believe that properly funded departments are more effective than improperly funded departments and we need to keep our infrastructure strong, which in turn attracts people to want to come live and do business here.
Cathleen (Cathy) Farley, 57, husband Mike, office manager
Issues — Manchester, like any active and growing city, has tough issues that need to be addressed. Top among these are the difficulties faced by our School District, and quality of life issues such as homelessness and the negative effects of the opioid crisis. While I recognize and appreciate their efforts, I believe our current leaders have not tackled these problems with the passion and sense of urgency they demand. My approach would be to actively engage all stakeholders and listen actively to their concerns, work in a collaborative way to establish an action plan that has community buy-in, and hold responsible people accountable for results.
Downtown — Our downtown is successful, but we can do better. We need to make the downtown area more business friendly by making it easier to open and run a business in our city. City regulations should facilitate growth, not stifle it. There are many great events that take place downtown throughout the year. The city needs to take a more active role in promoting these events, not only to Manchester residents, but throughout the state to help raise the image of our city with people who may not visit frequently. And we need to encourage people to visit our downtown more frequently, perhaps even closing Elm Street to traffic on a weekend or two to promote foot traffic.
Taxes — The question is far too simplistic, as any tax cap override would apply to the entire budget, not only to salaries. But I am not ashamed to say I voted against the tax cap in 2009. In my opinion it has done more to limit growth in the city than to promote it, and I believe it should once again be put before the voters of Manchester to see if they believe it has met their expectations.
Jon Claude Hopwood, 59. Writer
Issues — Breaking omerta, the political class’s code of silence, is essential for reforming Manchester’s spoils system. Good government laws enable the flourishing of the real, people-based democracy I and other vets put our lives on the line for. Whistleblower/clawback laws targeting waste and corruption are more effective than a “tax cap” in preserving taxpayer dollars by reducing graft. Manchester needs strong transparency and accountability statutes that are enforced. Terminating omerta enables ‘We, the People’ to solve problems plaguing our schools and streets, and to end the obscenity of Queen City senior citizens living in fear, an issue ignored by career politicians.
Downtown — The Queen City is imperiled by blowback from the taxpayer supported rehab industry that’s a magnet for afflicted individuals. Manchester’s a dumping ground for other communities ridding themselves of their problems. City Hall must take a strong stand with the state. Feeder communities, many of which unfairly plunder the pot of federal drug enforcement monies, must compensate Manchester for shouldering the lion’s share of handling the state’s substance abuse problem. The City should declare a moratorium on expanding the rehab industry until the financial inequities are addressed and should aggressively pursue every avenue to stop the exploitation of Manchester.
Taxes — ‘Father of the Tax Cap’ Dr. Jeffrey Kassel tells me it’s a “spending cap.” It’s a good thing due to the discipline it imposes, but overrides to pay vital city personnel such as police and teachers are a moral imperative. The 2014 “Spice Epidemic” crime wave in which drug dealers established themselves in Manchester was enabled by failing to fund a full complement of police officers. The School Committee’s seeming obstruction of teacher contract negotiations has triggered an emergency, as too many good teachers are leaving the Manchester School District. The pennywise/pound foolishness of “tax cap” absolutists has harmed us.
William “Will” Infantine, 55, wife Christine, daughters Madison and Lauren. Insurance agency owner.
Issues — The top issue facing the schools is the union and the abuse of sick time and health benefits by some. These need to be addressed so we can properly compensate the teaching staff with a wage consistent with their effort. Chronic absenteeism and a union unwilling to address this and other issues is hurting our children’s education.
Downtown — For the most part I feel the downtown area is doing well but given the economy it should be doing better. The drug and homelessness issue is starting to disrupt business and make the downtown area less desirable. The SNHU Arena is underutilized and is a concern that needs to be addressed.
Taxes — I will not support a tax cap override to fund salaries unless it is absolutely necessary to the point of being an emergency. Our taxpayers live within a budget and so should the city. In order to keep good employees you need to pay a decent wage. However, the benefits, health insurance abuse and the Yarger Decker mandate must be removed from all future contracts.
Joseph Kelly Levasseur, attorney.
Issues — The mayor’s lack of leadership and integrity are the city’s biggest issue. After slapping her democrat allies on the back for overriding the tax cap, she has now decided the best strategy to win re-election is to blame others for the vagrancy/drug crisis. Since the day she was elected she pretended these issues affecting downtown, parks, and other areas did not exist: only after she got a serious opponent did she finally beg the governor for help, and when he said yes, she turned and blamed him for the problems. Pointing fingers is not leadership.
Downtown — For over 30 years I have been a business/property owner in downtown. I fought many battles to keep it clean, and worked hard to help it thrive; but never have I seen downtown under siege like it is now. Failure by Mayor Craig to acknowledge, lead or forge a plan for the vagrancy issue is the main reason why businesses struggle to attract new business. If she would stop blaming others and keep in mind that people other than vagrants have rights — we can change the landscape and make it attractive for people to feel safe again.
Taxes — No.
Daniel P. O’Neil, 59, wife Karyn and a son Daniel. Electrician.
Issues — Top issues facing the city are public safety, our schools and our infrastructure.
Downtown — Our downtown is thriving but we need to make sure that it is safe and clean for those who live, work and visit our downtown.
Taxes — When additional revenues are available, I support overriding the cap to properly fund our city departments and school district.
School Board At Large
Carlos Gonzalez, former mayoral candidate and state representative
Issues — Failure to focus on academic excellence. The district has put too much emphasis on soft skills and has all but abandoned the time-tested methods of teaching children how to read, write and calculate in favor of new methods of teaching that aren’t working. It needs to return to proven methods of instruction that serve the vast majority of students and use alternatives with those who need them.
Downtown — Yes, however we need to find a solution to Downtown’s homelessness, drugs and crime as never before. The main street is threatened and affected by this situation. The city’s response over the past two years has defied common sense and enabled the explosion of this problem. At a minimum, Manchester needs to demand that New Hampshire put an end to “catch and release” bail laws and restore police authority to make arrests at the scene of an overdose. Manchester also needs to strictly enforce ordinances designed to protect our public spaces for the quiet and safe enjoyment of all. We need to respect the personal and property rights of everybody, not just the vagrants that have overrun the city.
Taxes — Time is of the essence in resolving and every effort and/or compromise must be made to solve the salary increase of the school employees. The tax cap should be applied to salary and payroll benefit line items. When these line items grow faster than the cap, the district has to take money away from things the children need, including: more teachers to lower class sizes at the elementary schools and add courses to the middle schools; provide technology, materials and supplies; and properly maintain the buildings and grounds.
Jason Hodgdon — did not respond to candidate survey
Joseph Lachance, 49, 2 daughters ages 22 and 12. Family and Consumer Science teacher at Easterseals in Manchester.
Issues — Our biggest issue in Manchester is how to best utilize the scarce resources available to the district in a better and more efficient way. With a budget that continues to go up every year and the student enrollment down over time, programs, buildings and staff must be consolidated in order to free up necessary resources and reallocated where prudent.
Downtown — I think crime, homelessness and the drug crisis has taken a toll on Manchester. This is not the city I grew up in and not the city I feel safe in anymore. As a school board member I would have little control over policy of the above subject. However, we can come together as a community for the greater good of all and rid ourselves of the visible crime, homelessness, drug use on our streets by education. Right now it appears many city officials have their head in the sand and will not admit we are in crisis.
Taxes — I fully support the tax cap and the will of the Manchester voters. I do not support overriding the tax cap to fund employees. There is a better way to do this with a lot of hard work and budgeting. I will not vote for anything that would override the will of the people.
Gene Martin, 32, wife Erin, daughter Catherine. Works in Alumni and Development Office at a state university.
Issues — The top issue facing our school district is making sure that every child has the opportunity to succeed regardless of where they live in the city. The next School Board must take meaningful and measurable action to address the achievement gap. We have a moral obligation to provide a quality education that gives every child the best possible chance to reach their full potential.
Downtown — Having grown up in Manchester, I believe our downtown is much more vibrant now than it was 15 years ago, for example. We have great restaurants and local businesses for people to enjoy. While we do not get downtown as much as we used to before we had our daughter, we still try to enjoy Elm Street as much as we can.
Taxes — Only the Board of Mayor and Aldermen can override the tax cap, this is not something that could come before the Board of School Committee for a vote. As a School Board member, I could only vote to allocate the funding that the aldermen send to the School Board.
James ‘Jim’ O’Connell
Issues — The issues are myriad but the most immediate need is to stop the exodus of highly qualified and experienced teachers from our schools. I will work to improve the relationship between our staff and the board. Great schools require great teachers.
Downtown — Elm Street in Manchester is vibrant and flourishing. Businesses are vying to open on our main thoroughfare. Ten years ago there were closed shop fronts, today there are not. Issues of homelessness and the opiate crises are visible but they are in every city at this time. I am more concerned with our schools which are suffering from a generation of neglect. I will fight to make Manchester schools the best in the state.
Taxes — I do not support the tax cap. I will be a diligent steward of every dollar of our taxpayers money but my first obligation will be to the children, families and staff of Manchester Public Schools. If our schools need resources to be effective then I will advocate for those resources. An automobile may look beautiful but if it has one wheel missing it is not fit for purpose. You can polish the car and take great selfies standing next to it but you need to get a fourth wheel to make it a car.
Lara Quiroga, 42, son Logan. Director of Strategic Initiatives for Children at Amoskeag Health.
Issues — The top issue facing our schools is governance itself. The Board of School Committee has become an entity that has a culture of mistrust of its members and employees of the district. The Board needs to focus on its two most important roles: hiring the right top leader — the Superintendent — and trusting him to do his job; and focusing on policy making, including budget, to ensure student success and sound operations.
Downtown — Manchester is on the path towards better health and a more vibrant community. We need to focus our attention on our schools in order to ensure students are graduating with the skills needed to move on to the workforce, trades, community colleges, and universities. Increasing attention on the many successes of our schools will generate continued interest in the success of our students and our community.
Taxes — The tax cap is not a simple yes or no issue. No elected official should enter office with plans to override the tax cap, nor should an override specifically be used to support increased salaries. The tax cap provides a limit for annual budget increases. The cap limits revenue raised through property taxes but it also limits expenditures. The tax cap does not take growth into consideration.