MANCHESTER, NH – Back in November, Manchester voters elected a new mayor for the first time since 2009. Joyce Craig, who was born and raised in the Queen City and has served both on the School Board and as an Alderman, defeated four-term mayor, Ted Gatsas. As a person who loves Manchester, I believe that the overall job Craig has now will be to continue the positive work that has been started, to continue and increase our momentum in making Manchester an even better city, to reverse the direction we are going with the opioid crisis, and to address other issues.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Mayor-elect Craig to discuss her vision and some thoughts on our city. There are a lot of things to do – and many things on her plate – so she’ll have to hit the ground running, which is something she has shown she can do and is preparing for.
We spoke about several topics, from prioritizing the many things that will need to be addressed to the opioid issue and how City Hall will be more open about where taxpayer money goes. We also discussed how Manchester is a great place with a lot of potential and how addressing the challenges that we face will help make the city even greater. I also wanted to allow Craig to clarify her position on the apartment tax.
Craig shared that she grew up in Manchester and that her family has a long history in the city and that they all believe in our community.
“Certainly we face challenges, but I absolutely believe that it is an amazing city and we are on a path for great success. We have our challenges and we need to address them, just to make ourselves better – and that’s what I really look forward to doing,” Craig said.
“We can’t move forward if we don’t acknowledge some of the challenges that we have, but at the same time there are tremendous opportunities that we have that we need to talk about even more, and talk about the success that we’re having at every front regarding the challenges,” Craig said.
She believes that one of the challenges we have is to be sure “everybody sees the same greatness” in Manchester that those who grew up here and love the city do.
Craig believes that collaboration and bringing everyone to the table will give us greater success and help us move forward. Since the election, Craig said that she has had lots of meetings and phone calls and that she has met with department heads, elected officials, and residents. Craig described the interactions and her time since the election as, “great.” She also said that she has been fortunate to have been able to set-up office at the Flats because it’s a great location that a lot of people can get to. She described the time since the election as “almost like an open house with people sharing ideas, concerns, and thoughts about the city” and that it has been “extremely positive.”
Facing major challenges head on
We discussed some of the major challenges that Manchester faces, which includes the opioid problem, quality of education, and property taxes. Other things that people, particularly business owners and employers, find important are small business friendliness, the “greying population,” and getting young people to stay in our city. Craig responded by stating that these are issues that she heard during the campaign and that her plans address them but that, “the key thing as I head into the office is really bringing the community together.” She continued by saying that, “A mayor and City Hall can’t do it all alone, but if we can tap into the expertise on the School Board, the school district, Board of Mayor and Alderman, and our community, we have a much better chance of really addressing the issues.”
Craig spoke about people working together to solve Manchester’s opioid problem. She said that it will require “making sure that we’re getting together the right players like CMC, The Elliot, the recovery entities – those who are providing treatment – public safety, and health. Working together so that we know exactly what’s happening in Manchester and can best address the issue and help the people who need it the most.”
Craig wants to bring people who represent different views together to address the issue and believes that the faith-based community also needs to be included. Craig said that there are a lot of pockets in the community that are helping and that she believes we will be better if everyone is on the same page and working in the same direction. She also wants to be an advocate for the city to make sure that our representatives in Concord understand the impact of “downshifting” of revenue.
She has already had meetings with Superintendent of Manchester Schools, Dr. Bolgen Vargas, as well as with his executive team and plans on “working closely with the school district and the School Board to really put solid plans in place that we all agree on that address student achievement.” Because we have the data and know where we stand, “now we have to talk about what we need to do to make sure all of our kids are succeeding and put that forward,” Craig said, adding, “That is really where I see the public-private partnerships and working with the colleges here in the city as a great opportunity.”
Partnerships and collaboration are key
On the business front, Craig stated that Manchester needs to “partner with the Chamber,” to help existing businesses as well as attract new ones to the city. Craig said that she has met with Michael Skelton, (President & CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce), and they ”really feel confident” that they can build a better relationship, and that by doing so, will have “a much better opportunity” to build a Manchester that is attractive to small business and young people and meets needs.
“There are some things we can do from a city perspective through the Economic Development Office in terms of doing a 50/50 program with signage,” said Craig, who thinks we may want to look at bringing back previous 50/50 programs, such as one that addressed zoning issues to a certain amount. She also thinks that we should work closely with the Manchester Development Corporation to “ensure that they have the support from the Mayor’s Office when businesses are coming to Manchester.”
We discussed the animosity that seems to exist between the School Board and the Board of Mayor and Alderman. Having served on both boards, Craig has a unique perspective when it comes to what it would take to unite the two boards. To that end, she has been meeting individually with each elected official and her plan is “to do that on a monthly basis going forward.” The meetings have included Craig getting a better understanding of what is going on in the wards and to find out if there is anything that she can help them out. She believes that these meetings will help build trust as well as a great working relationship among elected officials.
“When you can do that then it transfers into the larger group, so I’m hoping to see a difference both on the School Board and the Board of Mayor and Alderman,” Craig said. “My intention is to have everybody work better together. From the meetings that I’ve had with board members, they want to see that too.”
Craig mentioned that one thing she has spoken to Dr. Vargas about is that when he and the School Board come before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, it’s usually at budget time. She’d like to change that.
“I think there’s an opportunity for Dr. Vargas to come to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, maybe on a quarterly basis, and talk about what’s going on in the schools so the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have a better understanding of the issues they’re addressing and the successes that they’re having – so it’s not just ‘we’re here to ask for money,” Craig said.
Aside from the issues and challenges facing Manchester, we also discussed some of the positive things about our city, such as the growing arts and restaurant scenes. Craig also mentioned the rise of a cultural district, the ride sharing program with bicycles, and Manchester Connects, a community effort to make sure we do something along the river and connecting the East and West sides of the city to the downtown.
“These are all grassroots efforts; all community-member driven opportunities that have made our community better,” Craig said. “I also think that there is a really big opportunity for City Hall to play a part in these sorts of efforts so that we can do even more, and that’s what I look forward to doing.”
I wanted to give Craig the opportunity to address a tax rumor that has been floating around, and to clarify her position on taxes. The rumor is that she wants to increase revenue by instituting things such as a tax on renters. Craig explained that the apartment tax rumor began years ago, when she was serving on the school board.
“When I was new on the School Board, we were encountering a very challenging budget and were facing having to lay teachers off, so as a new member I just put the word out to the whole city saying that if you have any ideas on ways we can generate revenue or save money, send them,” Craig explained.
She collected the information and submitted a memo to the School Board as well as to then Mayor Guinta that included all the ideas submitted by constituents, including the apartment tax idea.
“It was a five-page memo that included many things – some that had been implemented like energy efficiencies – and some like the taxes you mentioned,” Craig said. “But I clearly stated on the memo that these were ideas that were given to me from the community and ones that I didn’t necessarily agree with – no, I don’t agree with a tax on renters.”
Craig added, “We need to keep taxes low and as mayor I will present a budget that is under the tax-cap, so we need to be creative in terms of what opportunities we’re going after in terms of public-private partnerships or grant opportunities, and be very conscious of where we’re spending money and make sure we’re spending it where the taxpayers want us to spend it and where we’re making the biggest impact in our city.”
Craig also said we as a city need to do a better job of talking about where our taxpayer dollars are going.
“One of the things I will be doing when I’m serving is having transparency. We need to be open with our community about where the money is going and the decisions that we’re making,” Craig said. Whether on the city website or other means, those who want to know where taxpayer money is going will be able to find out, she said.
Making history as first female mayor
I wanted to give Craig the opportunity to share the significance of her being the first woman elected to be Mayor of Manchester.
“It’s a tremendous honor. Both of my daughters were very involved in the campaign, both this one and two years ago. It’s great for me to think about how now young women in Manchester won’t see this as an obstacle. Anything is available to anybody in our community if you work hard, now I think that’s what I would probably focus on most,” Craig said.
“It just so happens that I’m the first female, but I think persistence and working hard is something that is important to make sure is stressed. Anybody – no matter who you are – if you have a desire and you work hard, you can achieve it. You get that support and go. That – to me – is the message that’s really important here,” Craig said.
Having the chance to sit down with Craig reinforced to me that deciding to move my family back to Manchester and growing our business here at this particular time was the right decision. I believe that Manchester is on the cusp of greatness – the cusp of having an unmistakable identity. When I see the mills along the Merrimack, the thoughts of history, innovation, and transformation come to mind. I want Manchester to be the place where people come because of its uniqueness, proud history, and where great things are happening.
Like any city, Manchester has its issues, as Craig acknowledges. But our city continues to be a place of innovation, and has become a place where cool and unique businesses call home. Several colleges are increasing their presence, and investing in the city along with initiatives to keep recent graduates here and to make Manchester more bike and pedestrian-friendly. And with the growing night life and arts scene, along with the increasing number of family-friendly events, Manchester is becoming a destination for everyone. There is much more to do for Manchester to continue to move forward and become the great city that we want it to be, but we are moving in a good direction.
Craig’s inauguration, as well as that of other city officials, will be held on Tuesday, January 2nd starting at 10 a.m. The event will be held at the Radisson on Elm Street and is free and open to the public.
- Master of Ceremonies: John Clayton, Executive Director, Manchester Historic Association
- Pipes and Drums: New Hampshire Police Association Pipes and Drums
- Posting of Colors: Manchester Fire Department and Manchester Police Department
- National Anthem: Boys and Girls Club
- Pledge of Allegiance: Girls at Work
- Oaths of Office (Aldermen, School Committee, Ward Officials): Matthew Normand, City Clerk
- Oath of Office (Mayor): Michael Craig
- Mayor’s Introduction: Senator Maggie Hassan
The inaugural ball will be held from 5:30-10 p.m. on Saturday, January 13. This event will also be held at the Radisson. The inaugural ball is a ticketed, black-tie optional event. The cost is $75 per person, which includes a sit-down dinner, remarks by Craig, and a live band.
I want to thank Mayor-elect Joyce Craig for taking the time for our discussion.
Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who has come home after spending several years living in Providence, Rhode Island. Along with his wife Jackie and their two boys, Brian is excited to be back in New Hampshire and together they are focused on contributing to their community! Brian and Jackie own ArtisticSoul™, an art and design startup that is dedicated to helping people express themselves, supporting various causes, and serving in the community. He merges his life experiences with his passions for innovation and community to develop his articles. Brian can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.