BUCKLE UP, Manchester voters, another election season is upon us.
Yes, we have barely recovered from last November’s state and federal elections. But in a few months, we will be voting for a full slate of aldermen, school committee members, ward moderators, ward clerks and ward selectmen. Since there are three announced candidates for mayor, there will be a citywide September primary to narrow the field to two for the November ballot.
Manchester elections technically have been nonpartisan for more than 20 years, but the two major political parties usually take sides. Typically, one Republican and one Democrat are the finalists in the November election. This tradition likely will continue this year.
The three announced candidates are incumbent Mayor Joyce Craig, the first woman to hold the office, former state representative Victoria Sullivan (no relation), who lost to Craig two years ago, and former school committeeman Rich Girard, who ran and lost to Mayor Bob Baines in 2001.
There has been some scuttlebutt that former mayor Ted Gatsas is considering a race. However, that would mean launching another campaign just six months after his successful re-election to the Executive Council. It would also mean three Republicans in the September primary: Sullivan, Girard and Gatsas.
Joyce Craig is pretty much assured of finishing in one of the two top spots in the September primary. She has led the city with a steady hand during the COVID crisis. City services looked a little different, but by and large went uninterrupted. Streets were paved and plowed, elections held, library books distributed and city police and fire personnel responsive to calls. As in every school district, education was challenging, but the teachers continued to teach, albeit virtually and then in a hybrid manner until the schools fully reopened. Businesses were assisted with a loan program, and downtown restaurants afforded the opportunity to expand onto adjacent sidewalks.
If no other Republicans join the race, the September primary will be a battle for the second spot on the November ballot. It will be an interesting matchup, as Girard and Sullivan appeal to the same right wing of the Republican Party.
Although he has not attacked her by name, Girard is running as a better, stronger and more experienced candidate than Sullivan, touting his long years in city government. His announcement also stated that more was needed than “carping criticism.” One knock on Sullivan’s failed 2019 effort was that she spent too much time on negative attacks and not enough on policy or how she would, in her words, make Manchester “shine.”
Girard can be controversial. While on the school committee, he emailed a student writer at Central High School’s Little Green newspaper to express his displeasure about an article. He posted the email, which included the student’s email address, on his Facebook page (he later removed the email address).
Girard should have apologized for his lapse in judgment and admit that he should have sent his comments to the superintendent or the principal. Instead, he doubled down, saying no one had given him a rationale as why he should have done so. Violating school board policy by directly contacting a student and perhaps violating federal law by publishing the email address would have been rationale enough for a sensible elected official.
Sullivan’s kickoff has been rocky. As in 2019, she started by attacking Craig over the city’s efforts with its homeless population. As in 2019, however, she offered no plan for what she would do differently, just that she would bring nonprofit organizations together, gather data, and come up with a plan once she was mayor.
The problem for Sullivan is that Craig has already brought non-profits together to work on homelessness, not just talk about it. After two years complaining, Sullivan was unable to offer concrete solutions or suggest anything different than what the mayor has done already. Her campaign consultants recognized her blunder, and hastily contacted the press to say Sullivan would come up with a plan in a few weeks.
Given Girard’s record, and Sullivan’s performance to date, there is no clear favorite for the second spot on the November ballot. That is good news for Mayor Craig.