MANCHESTER, NH – In front of an audience of friends, family, neighbors, political activist and probably a few people just looking for dinner, a packed Don Quijote restaurant played host to a group of conjoined campaign kickoffs on Friday night.
Incumbent Board of School Committee Members Jason Bonilla (Ward 5) and Chris Potter (Ward 7) were joined by Aldermanic challengers Marcus Ponce De Leon (Ward 5) and Emerald Anderson-Ford (At-Large) in a shared vision that saw all four candidates discuss ongoing efforts to build a more inclusive city.
Anderson-Ford, Chief Diversity Officer of the YWCA of New Hampshire and a late addition to the program, began the event by telling the crowd that she hopes to bring fresh progressive leadership to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. She praised Bonilla and Potter for their efforts to give voices to traditionally underrepresented voices in the Manchester School District.
“Ward Five has such richness and diversity, representing the constituents here is going to take somebody really special and I don’t think we’ve really seen that,” she said. “We need somebody who is going to show up bigger, we need somebody who is going to show up with innovation, we need somebody to show up with people-centered compassion.”
Ponce de Leon addressed the lack of affordable housing included in various new residential construction proposals, also emphasizing the importance of protecting the city’s green space. He also echoed Anderson-Ford’s exhortation for change. While he did not mention incumbent Ward 5 Alderman Tony Sapienza by name, he said that Sapienza was not responsive to nearly any of the needs or concerns of those living in the city’s center and stated that the Ward requires “representation that is invested in being responsive to our needs.”
“I’m throwing my hat in the ring to be next Alderman for Ward 5 here in Manchester in order to be a voice and a fierce advocate for all the communities and cultures that make up our corner of the Queen City,” he said. “To ensure that as Manchester continues to grow and reach its full potential, future growth (needs) to include input from our communities out there putting out the groundwork but who don’t currently have a seat anywhere on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and never have.”
Bonilla and Potter shared their personal experiences and reiterated the need for underrepresented segments of the community to be given a voice at City Hall, with Bonilla going as far as to provide his comments in both English and Spanish.
“Our students should be able to hear their native languages spoken throughout their (schools) and to be celebrated for the amount of languages that they speak,” said Bonilla.
“We’re empowering students to raise their voices themselves and taking leadership roles themselves and we’re offering courses that appeal to students of every kind but we’re just getting started,” said Potter.
The event’s speakers also reiterated the need to increase voter turnout in Ward 5 given that traditionally it has been lower than in other parts of the city. There was also plenty of praise from the speakers for mayoral candidate Will Stewart, who attended the event.
Stewart was grateful for the endorsement of Bonilla and Potter and echoed the need to increase voter turnout in Ward 5.
“This is a geographic area of the city and a demographic which as you heard has not been historically active at the polls,” said Stewart. “To be able to activate the residents of the city here in the center city, that could be transformational for the city.”