MANCHESTER, NH – Mayoral candidates Mayor Ted Gatsas and Joyce Craig faced off Monday morning in what was touted as the “rematch” debate on NH Today with Jack Heath’s morning radio program on WGIR AM.
Program host Jack Heath deftly handled the rapid-fire back-and-forth, which included 10 questions and a lightning round.
You can listen to the full debate by clicking the podcast at the top of this post (and you can fast-forward through the commercial breaks).
Gatsas and Craig have been down this road before – they faced off in the 2015 election, with Gatsas prevailing in the end by 64 votes, following a recount.
In addition to the Oct. 16 WGIR radio debate, the candidates agreed to a total of four debates/forums:
Oct. 25 at 7:30 a.m. Greater Manchester Chamber Debate
Nov. 2 at live on NHPR’s The Exchange, 9 a.m.
WMUR Debate (date to be announced.)
Craig made a point of saying that her campaign has challenged Gatsas to three additional forums, at the three city high schools which would open up debates to questions from residents, but so far Gatsas refuses to “face the voters” and accept her challenge. Gatsas’ campaign has said that they are committed to the four forums mentioned above, without responding directly to Craig’s debate challenge.
Questions fielded in the Monday morning interchange ranged from how well the city is addressing the opioid epidemic, the need for reform of immigration policies and the tax cap, to spending on schools, and each candidate’s position on keno. Each question asked of candidates allowed for a 90-second response and 30-second rebuttal.
Other tangential topics that arose included panhandling, the wisdom of spending on renovations of city offices, and how each candidate’s past record reflects on their future decision making, if elected.
During a discussion of transparency, Craig questioned whether Gatsas is in the pocket of the developer who has been given approval to build high-density housing in a residential zone that was recently rezoned, despite opposition from neighbors. Gatsas cited an example of how he does not allow his friendship with big developers, including Dick Anagnost, to affect his decision-making, and chided Craig for not speaking up sooner about the Ward 8 project, saying she is against development in the city. Craig countered, saying she does not oppose development but does oppose rezoning of a residential area when it is not supported by residents – and also pointed to a $10,000 campaign contribution to the Gatsas’ campaign by the developer of that project, and called for campaign finance reform for city elections. She also said she tried working behind the scenes so as not to politicize the hot-button issue. Gatsas noted that her inability to squash the rezoning speaks to her lack of leadership.
Some more highlights are below:
Question: What is the city doing right/not right
Craig said despite the best efforts of first responders to the city’s drug crisis, Manchester needs a mayor who will dig deeper into the available data and pinpoint where services are falling off. She cited the high percentage of those treated by Safe Station who are from outside the city and said it’s the mayor’s responsibility to fight for more resources from Concord, and challenged Gatsas to bring the city’s plight to Gov. Sununu. She also criticized him for not yet having gone on ride alongs with city police or fire units, as she has done, for a firsthand look at the drug crisis.
Gatsas countered that he already had a planned meeting with Sununu for today, and noted deaths are down year-over-year despite a spike of drug overdose deaths in September. Craig came back at Gatsas by questioning the timing of his meeting with the governor, three weeks prior to election day, adding that the mayor of the state’s largest city should also be collaborating with mayors from around the state. He also told Craig that he didn’t think “joking and laughing” with officers in a police cruiser would do anything to advance city policy, and that he has a “pretty good idea” of what goes on by watching “Drugs, Inc.” [a documentary-style program on NatGeo channel.]
Craig countered that she would recommend the mayor head out to see what’s really happening in the city, rather than watching “Drugs,Inc. on TV.
Question: How does each candidate feel about bringing Keno to Manchester to fund full-day kindergarten across the state? [Note: The state has already approved Keno to fund kindergarten, but is requiring the question go before all voters on the November ballot, and each municipality which has the option vote yes or no on whether to allow the online gambling practice into local bars and restaurants.]
Craig said she was happy to see keno on the ballot, although she is not personally for bringing keno to Manchester, adding that she felt it would add to existing problems the city is already facing, and felt the city should get a larger revenue stream from keno than the law allows.
Gatsas touted his support of full-day kindergarten in the city and implemented it six years ago. He also said he fought for full-day kindergarten while a member of the state legislature, and is personally in favor of Manchester allowing keno in bars and restaurants.
Question: Is the city spending enough on public education?
Gatsas said the city has a great education system, including the state’s only full-time technical high school. He also touted the city’s STEAM Ahead program, which he’d like to expand to all elementary schools.
Craig said although she is a strong proponent of public schools, she believes the city cold do better by assessing spending and reallocation of resources. She cited state statistics that list Manchester students as lagging behind in reading at grade level in the primary grades, and having the second-highest drop-out rate at West High School. Gatsas accused Craig of using rhetoric that doesn’t reflect the city’s own data on reading comprehension; Craig accused Gatsas of misrepresenting the reality of the city’s academic standings.