The candidates

Incumbent Mayor Joyce Craig and challengers Richard Girard and Victoria Sullivan will square off in the Manchester city primary Tuesday.

The mayoral contest headlines Manchester’s 2021 municipal primary election on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The top two finishers will advance to the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

The Union Leader asked the candidates about crime, homelessness, housing costs, school taxes and small businesses. Candidates were asked to limit responses to 150 words. They are presented alphabetically.

Q:

With recent incidents involving guns in the news, how would you work to curb violent crime in Manchester?

CRAIG: Keeping Manchester safe is my top priority, and I’m honored to have the endorsement of the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association and the Association of Police Supervisors. Over the past three years, we’ve added 30 police officers, resulting in the largest complement we’ve ever had. Under the leadership of Chief Aldenberg, officer training increased from 8 to 40 hours annually, focusing on de-escalation tactics, use of non-lethal force, implicit bias, and cultural responsiveness.

With the American Rescue Plan funding, we’re implementing a violent crime reduction and prevention initiative with the Police and Health Departments — which includes increased foot patrols and addressing environmental issues in neighborhoods, funds investigative overtime and utilizing Community Health Workers to respond to non-violent check condition calls, freeing up officers to respond to more urgent matters.

Crime is down for the fifth year in row and we’re already seeing positive results from these new programs.

GIRARD: Working with several retired police officers, among others, I have proposed a comprehensive plan that fully addresses this question. Please visit https://www.girardatlarge.com/girardformayor/issues/manchester-crime-proposal/ for complete details.

My plan focuses on proven strategies, from aggressive traffic enforcement, to an intense focus on quality of life crimes, which, if not dealt with, create an environment where more serious crime occurs. We’ve been living that reality these past four years.

I will also aggressively lobby the legislature to eliminate the ridiculous “catch and release” bail law and will do whatever it takes to get the courts to take violations written for these “minor” issues seriously.

Criminals do not take root in a community that pays attention to “little things,” which is why communities that do have much lower violent crime rates than ours, which is 60% higher than the average of cities across our country.

SULLIVAN: I have been calling for foot patrols for years, even prior to running for the office of Mayor. This has been an effective way to address crime in other cities. That doesn’t mean it has to be a burden to the taxpayers. It just means we change the way we manage the department.

We need to have greater transparency and work to create stronger relationships between our citizens and our officers. Only then will people work with the police and trust them with information about where the criminal activity is in their neighborhoods. The apathy for the crime in our city is unacceptable. We can work toward a safer, more prosperous city for our citizens, our businesses, and make Manchester a place that our children can be proud to call their home.

Q:

What are your plans to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Manchester?

CRAIG: We’re implementing long and short-term solutions for homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

I’ve collaborated with Mayors across NH to advocate for a statewide approach, while offering strategic steps forward at the local level. I’ve fostered relationships between the city and nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations, and unhoused populations to offer mental health and medical services, provide additional shelter beds, and increase public safety measures.

We implemented outreach efforts to connect unhoused individuals with services, treatment and housing. Utilizing federal funds, we hired a Director of Homeless Initiatives to lead and coordinate the city’s efforts, which focus on the chronically homeless, community collaboration, and increasing affordable/supportive housing (learn more at www.manchesternh.gov).

We’ve allocated nearly $8 million in federal funds to increase affordable housing, provide grants to help keep seniors in their homes, and grants to landlords to renovate apartments that remain affordable.

GIRARD: I have proposed a comprehensive approach to address this profound problem. It can be found at https://www.girardatlarge.com/girardformayor/issues/homelessness/.

In summary, to stop attracting people to our city who become homeless due to drug addiction, I would close Safe Stations and transition those services to the state’s Doorway program.

For the same reason, I would take action to close the approximately 60 illegally operating sober living businesses in neighborhoods across our city. They attract many outsiders who end up homeless on our streets.

Finally, I would add police to the outreach teams to advise that the city will enforce the state and local laws they’re violating if they don’t accept the offered help or don’t move along. The goal is to encourage them to get help.

Tolerating or excusing their lawless behavior has only attracted more who’ve engaged in it. This is not about housing!

SULLIVAN: This is a complex issue that is discussed in great length on my website, victoriasullivanformayor.com. There has to be a multi-pronged approach that includes tax incentives for local builders/apartment owners to take over and care for many of our abandoned properties. We must remove some of the regulations to allow new uses for properties.

Our loitering and vagrancy laws must be enforced equally for all citizens. We must also make the message clear that Manchester cannot shoulder the burden of the entire state. Cities and towns that send their homeless here must be held accountable.

Working on statewide initiatives in regards to addiction, mental health, and homelessness is imperative.

As a former legislator, and someone who currently works on the state level across many agencies and nonprofits, I am the only candidate who can create long-term solutions for our city using the relationships that I have built over the years.

Q: Young professionals say Manchester needs more “starter homes” or more affordable rent prices for them to stay in the city. What will you do as mayor to address rising rent and housing costs, and how do you plan on keeping young people and people in general in Manchester?

CRAIG: Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing our state. In Manchester, we’ve made great strides to increase the number of affordable housing units.

In April, we released the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Taskforce Report and have been making progress on the recommendations including updating multiple zoning regulations and establishing a Housing Commission to oversee this work and continue to focus on the housing needs of the city.

Using federal funds, we’ve allocated nearly $8 million to increase affordable housing options. We issued requests for proposals for two underutilized parking lots in downtown to build mixed-use, mixed income housing.

Manchester continues to add more high quality jobs that attract young people. We’re enhancing our parks and green spaces, expanding rail trails and bike lanes, advocating for commuter rail, and supporting the small business that make Manchester a unique and exciting place to live, work and raise a family.

GIRARD: Prices rise in times of scarcity. To bring prices down, supply has to increase.

I will appoint a working group to review and revise our regulatory codes and enforcement practices to simplify the construction of new housing, especially in areas where renovation of older buildings provides unique opportunities.

With COVID impacting office and retail spaces, I see unique opportunities for residential conversion. Also, facilitating the residential redevelopment of the upper floors of buildings in and around Elm St. is long overdue.

Owner occupancy of our duplexes and triple deckers provides a terrific opportunity to lower ones housing costs. Having done that myself, I’d like to find ways to encourage more owner occupancy of these buildings. This also stabilizes neighborhoods.

I’d consider expanding the use of RSA 79E for these purposes.

The overarching goal is to make Manchester much more user friendly and welcoming to residential builders, which it is not.

SULLIVAN: Again, incentivizing builders and landlords through tax incentives and building relationships with city banks can help to renovate or rebuild some of our abandoned homes and/or lots. We also need to honor the tax cap.

Increased property taxes lead to increased rents and higher mortgage payments for new homebuyers when the escrow is factored in. The worst thing we could do is to grant the school district its own taxing authority. That would drive up property taxes, immediately hurting our young families and our elderly the most.

The recently released reevaluations show an increased tax burden on this population, which in turn, will lead to more young professionals and families leaving the city.

In order to reduce the burden on homeowners, the city must become business-friendly which includes reducing crime in commercial/retail areas. Increasing our commercial tax base reduces the burden on the residential owners.

Q: Are you in favor of the school board having its own taxing authority? Why or why not?

CRAIG: I support the budgetary autonomy of the Manchester School District, as long as the Board of School Committee is held to the same rules as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen when it comes to requiring a super majority to approve a tax cap override.

Having served as a School Board member, an Alderman, and now as Mayor and Chair of the School Board, I have a unique perspective on the District budgeting process. The current process is broken, and there is lack of accountability.

Quality public schools are a top priority for our residents and businesses, and decisions regarding their funding should be made by the board that is elected to govern them, rather than a board that is less familiar.

This is how most communities across the state and country operate, and Manchester should move toward this model if we want to see lasting improvements to public education.

GIRARD: No.

The district should have to make its case for funding to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen just like the police, fire, public works, health and every other department or organization that spends taxpayer money. Each would love to set their own budget and send their own tax bill. This isn’t practical and would set the schools against the rest of the city.

Only the governing body should send a tax bill. In Manchester, that’s the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, not the school board.

This is little more than an attempt by the “more money crowd” to spend even more money. It does nothing to improve schools. From 2009 to 2020, per-pupil spending jumped by 61%! That’s 29% ABOVE inflation!

We don’t need more money. We need systemic change. Please visit https://www.girardatlarge.com/girardformayor/issues/school-choice/ for the changes and new direction I’ve proposed.

SULLIVAN: Absolutely not.

The school board should be returned to a department of the city with all of the oversight that brings with it. We currently have duplicate costs that would be streamlined if the school were a department.

While per-pupil spending has increased significantly, our student enrollment is down over 1,200 students since this Mayor took office in 2016. Our literacy rates have also continued to decrease.

The school district has proven to be poor stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and needs have increased, not decreased, oversight.

Q:

What is your plan to save small businesses? How do we make sure, when we come back from COVID, our local businesses are still here?

CRAIG: Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve worked to protect our local small businesses.

We established the Small Business Recovery Loan Program, making $1 million available in low-interest loans. We developed the Small Business Resiliency Grant program, which helped to retain and create jobs at over 50 small businesses. We expanded outdoor dining and streamlined the process for businesses, allowing restaurants to safely offer greater dining capacity.

Using federal American Rescue Plan funds, we allocated an additional $2 million for Small Business Grants & Programs to assist in economic recovery, expanding the eligibility and uses to include COVID-19 recovery, business planning, outdoor space improvements, employee retention and more. We’re filling the vacant Economic Development Director position and hiring a Business Liaison within the office to support our business community.

We’ve approved a commuter rail platform in downtown and adopted Manchester’s Master Plan that supports small businesses, innovation and entrepreneurship.

GIRARD: To the degree that government causes harm, it should provide compensation.

To prevent future damage, I will oppose any shutdowns, mandates or restrictions on businesses. They can make their own decisions about how best to operate in this environment, as can their customers.

I would consider dispensing federal COVID relief funds to businesses that demonstrate continued hardship after receiving state and federal aid. I would also consider using federal COVID funds to pay any city fees or property taxes assessed on businesses that haven’t recovered from the hardships created by the government’s response to COVID. With all the federal money available, I see no reason to use any local funds.

Currently, it would seem that the biggest hardship facing small businesses is the inability to find workers. There really isn’t anything city government can or should do about that.

SULLIVAN: COVID is just part of the equation and we must address all of the issues facing our business community.

The continued increases in property taxes, aggressive panhandlers, the homeless sleeping in front of our businesses, and the crime that is centered in a close proximity to downtown continues to oppress our businesses and keeps people from patronizing them. I am downtown speaking with businesses all the time that are watching their livelihoods disappear.

Part of the solution has been addressed in my previous answer in regard to homelessness. We have to support our police officers when they are trying to make the walkways safe and enforce our laws. We can also regulate where panhandling can take place.

We have to make our downtown welcoming once more.

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