MANCHESTER — Mayor Joyce Craig defended a statement she made about downtown sidewalks during her final mayoral debate this week and said an alternative proposal supported by aldermen in March was unconstitutional because it targeted the homeless.
During the debate, Craig said that city ordinances already allow business owners to obtain year-round control of their sidewalks. In March, she vetoed a measure that would have guaranteed that control, calling it reckless.
Craig’s campaign emailed a copy of the existing ordinance to the Union Leader. It states that a business owner can encumber sidewalks from April 1 through Oct. 15, and that the city clerk has the discretion to extend the dates of operation.
Craig’s opponent, Victoria Sullivan, noted that the mayor vetoed a proposal by downtown Alderman Tim Baines, which would have guaranteed year-round control of sidewalks.
She faulted Craig for touting the year-round nature of the ordinance during the debate, which aired on New Hampshire Public Radio and was sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader.
“It was a definite shift from what I know to be the truth,” Sullivan said on Wednesday.
“That’s not what’s on the books,” said Baines, who represents the downtown and has been vocal about issues involving the homeless. He said he wanted the year-round status written into ordinance and not put at the discretion of a city clerk.
Baines has pitched the ordinance change as a way to address issues of homelessness. And Sullivan said the ordinance would give police more power to have the homeless move along in the off season.
To Craig, it wasn’t necessary.
“There is an ordinance in place that allows business owners on Elm Street to use the sidewalk year round,” Craig said during the debate. She noted that tables and chairs remain on city sidewalks.
“They legally can, there is no need to change any ordinance,” she said during the debate.
In March, aldermen initially voted unanimously in favor of Baines’ proposal. But Craig vetoed it, and the board sustained her veto in a divided vote.
Craig said the existing ordinance does the same for downtown businesses as the Baines ordinance would have.
“The issue with Alderman Baines’ motion is that it specifically targeted homeless individuals which is unconstitutional,” she said in an email. She noted that some tables and chairs remain on sidewalks.
Baines, who hasn’t endorsed either candidate, acknowledged that police did not endorse his proposal, and he’s not sure if police can use the encumbrance to force the homeless off a sidewalk.
“To be honest, there’s a lot of gray area out there,” he said.