MANCHESTER, NH – A televised debate gave mayoral candidates Ted Gatsas and Joyce Craig an opportunity to field questions on everything from the city’s handling of the opioid crisis and business development, to the state of our schools and taxes.
Each candidate fielded unique questions with one minute to respond, and time for rebuttals at the discretion of WMUR political reporters Adam Sexton and John DiStaso, who moderated the Oct. 29 debate on “Close Up.”
Below are some highlights:
On the question of whether the city is doing enough to stem the number of overdose deaths, Craig said more needs to be done on the prevention side with young people, including education in our schools. Gatsas noted the police department’s ACERT program, which provides outreach to children who have been traumatized, and also touted the fact that President Trump shined a light on the city’s Safe Station program during a press conference last week, attended by Gov. Chris Sununu and Fire Chief Dan Goonan.
Gatsas also said the state needs to “step up” in assisting Manchester with funding Safe Station, which provides services for anyone seeking help in New Hampshire. Historically, that has included 65 percent of clients who reside outside of Manchester.
Craig said it’s important that tax dollars translate into services needed, and vowed that she as mayor would craft a budget that meets the needs of taxpayers and provides necessary services without exceeding the city’s tax cap.
Craig criticized recent renovations at City Hall when city schools are in disrepair, fixes she characterized as largely cosmetic. Although Gatsas defended the $1.3 million bond, that included a leaky roof repair, Craig shot back that the roof repair portion of the bond was $6,000.
Gatsas celebrated Dean Kamen’s biotech ARMI project, and said the city’s renaissance will continue with the so-called “Gaslight District.” Craig said she’d make sure businesses benefit from state laws allowing business tax credits as incentive to come to Manchester. She also said it’s critical with specialized industries, like ARMI on the horizon, to make sure schools have course offerings needed to equip city students to be eligible to join the high tech work force.
Craig also took the opportunity to chide Gatsas for not being up-to-speed on the ARMI project and cited it as an example of his lack of leadership. Gatsas rebutted her point by saying he worked with Kamen to bring STEAM education into Manchester.
“That says it all. I’ve worked with Dean Kamen, we’ve had great ideas we’ve brought forward and things happen when you have a great leader who knows how to work with people,” Gatsas said.
Craig was asked how she’d alleviate present and future transportation issues in the city. She focused in on the lack of parking, which is of growing concern to businesses in the millyard.
“Instead of saying no to every idea that comes forward, I’d be a mayor who would work with those businesses and try to come up with a solution to alleviate that. Because if we really want the millyard and gaslight district and downtown to thrive, we need to address this parking issue,” Craig said.
She noted that Nashua’s mayor is pursuing a proposal by a private company to bring rail to Nashua, something which could be beneficial to Manchester.
Gatsas fielded the same question, and said he met with the developer who is talking about bringing rail into Bedford over the next five years, but noted that there’s a bridge in need of a $20 million bridge renovation to make that happen.
Topics covered in a “lightning round included:
Free electric parking stations – Gatsas said “let’s see what it’s going to cost us and see if it makes sense.” Craig said there are grants available to “help us get there” and noted that it’s something the community favors and so does she.
What is the city’s hidden asset? Craig said its people, who have organically grown ideas into innovation without support from City Hall. “I always think about what if they had a mayor in City Hall who would support their efforts, we could do so much more.” Gatsas said its students, citing the successes of the Manchester School of Technology and the STEAM Ahead program, as two examples of programs that bring out the best in city students.
How to improve the city’s drop-out rate: Craig said schools need the resources to better equip students for learning, from books to technology. Alternative programs and improving literacy in younger grades would be two ways to bring down drop-out rates. Gatsas again referred to opportunities that support students who are not college bound, like STEAM Ahead and Manchester School of Technology.
The candidates also were asked whether mastery learning, which has been successful at Parker-Varney, should be in place in all schools. Gatsas said that’s why Amy Allen has been promoted to Assistant Superintendent, because of her success at Parker Varney. Craig said Gatsas has had eight years to scale the Parker-Varney program, and that the disparity between educational opportunities from school to school, due in part to Title 1 funding, means students don’t have equal educational opportunities.
On politics, Gatsas was asked about his commitment to the city, given his run for governor shortly after being re-elected as mayor in 2015. Gatsas said instituting Safe Station during his gubernatorial campaign proves he was committed to the city’s best interests, even while campaigning for state office. Craig was asked about bringing in out-of-state politicians with no ties to the city or state to support her campaign. Craig said she welcomes anyone who comes to Manchester with an interest in helping Manchester move forward. Gatsas implied Craig was bringing in outside politicians because they support sanctuary cities, and challenged her to denounce that idea. He also denied being distracted by his run for higher office. Craig responded that the city needs a committed, full-time mayor, and also said she has repeatedly stated that she does not support the idea of a sanctuary city in Manchester, as it would jeopardize much-needed federal funding.