Nashua voters chose Jim Donchess as their new mayor Tuesday, with Donchess defeating Chris Williams by just more than 1900 votes.
Donchess will replace incumbent Mayor Donnalee Lozeau who after eight years, did not run for reelection.
A rallying cheer rumbled through the Martha’s Exchange restaurant in downtown Nashua Tuesday evening as Jim Donchess walked in to greet his supporters.
But Donchess was quick to turn to city business.
"We all need to work together to achieve even a greater success for our community, in schools, in commuter rail, trying to work on heroin crisis, the downtown housing."
Donchess, an Alderman-at-large and former mayor, ran against Chris Williams, the former CEO of the Nashua Chamber for nine years.
A little more than 15,000 residents cast their ballots. Donchess soundly won all nine wards, defeating Williams with 56 percent of the vote.
Donchess was also the top vote-getter among six candidates in the primary. Both the firefighters and teachers unions endorsed him, as did Alderman President David Deane, who placed third in the primary.
But it was a hotly contested race, with both candidates breaking records with fund raising in the six-figures.
Williams collected more than $185,000, with several gifts as high as 5 and 10 thousand dollars; Donchess raised more than $143,000, with smaller contributions from a greater number of donors.
Resident Margery Morse says that Donchess has more of a history with voters.
"Jim is a real person; he’s a real Nashua citizen. He’s walked the streets and talked to everyone in the neighborhood for years. It’s personal for him. It wasn’t show. It was real."
Both candidates were strong advocates of downtown revitalization, urban housing and drug prevention.
But their backgrounds struck a contrast that played out contentiously online and in the media.
And money made a difference for resident Nancy Walton-Hamm.
"I was agitated by the fact Chris Williams had such large donations from developers especially. I remember 30 years ago when developers ran the city."
Critics cast Williams as an inexperienced politician. But the Union Leader and the Nashua Telegraph endorsed him, praising his insights with the business community.
After the election results, Williams released a video on Facebook, asking supporters of both campaigns to come together.
"Now that the election is behind us, we’re going to have conversations on merging the ideas presented to the city. And our city moving forward, united rather than divided."
Donchess regains the title of mayor after a 24-year hiatus. During his two terms, he initiated public kindergarten, boosted teachers’ salaries and increased the tax base by $850 million.
In the course of his tenure, Money Magazine voted Nashua as the best place to live in America.
At the end of the night, Donchess says it was a tough race.
"We had to work extremely hard to win. We had many people involved. All the door-to-door and calling made a difference."
The Nashua mayoral race is non-partisan. Jim Donchess is a registered Democrat. And though this race is over, with a presidential primary in full swing, many expect the mayor-elect of New Hampshire’s second-largest city to stump for the bigger races in 2016.
Donchess swears in as mayor on Jan. 3.