Joyce Craig Transcript: “We’ve been talking with people one-one-one and we’ll continue to do that”
The incumbent mayor of Manchester, Joyce Craig, is running for re-election against former state representative Victoria Sullivan. It’s a rematch between the two candidates from two years ago.
NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Craig about the top issues facing the city. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
You can read and listen to Rick’s interview with Victoria Sullivan here.
Rick Ganley: One of the most pressing issues across the state, and certainly in the city of Manchester, is housing. It's becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford their rent, especially among low income families. What are your plans for making housing more available and affordable in the city?
Joyce Craig: Well, thank you, Rick, for that question. It is a critical component here in terms of moving the city forward as well as the state. We are seeing vacancy rates at less than one percent. And it's really driving up market demand for both apartments and housing. So what we're doing in the city of Manchester, what I have done is allocated nearly $8 million of federal funds toward affordable housing in the city of Manchester. And what that would be used for would be to increase the number of units in the city, to renovate units in the city, to work with landlords, to encourage them to provide affordable units to residents in the city of Manchester. We've also put out two requests for proposals for parking lots in the city of Manchester that are underutilized. And what we want to see is an increase in parking, but an increase in housing. So there'd be mixed use, mixed income housing opportunities here. And then we've also allocated funds for senior citizens to ensure that they can stay in their homes as they age.
Rick Ganley: Is that a hard sell to landlords and to developers to get them to want to build more affordable housing?
Joyce Craig: Well, what we've found with developers is that, as you know, as a result of COVID, the cost of construction has significantly increased. So without incentives, yes, it's tough. But by providing funding opportunities, we are seeing that developers are more encouraged and open to developing affordable units when they're building.
Rick Ganley: I know that education was a large focus in the last debate between you and your challenger, Victoria Sullivan. At the center of that discussion was services for non-English speaking families, in particular. Manchester has the largest population of immigrant and refugee families in New Hampshire. Do you have plans to expand services in schools for those students and families?
Joyce Craig: Yes, I do, and I think it's important that we focus in on what's been done over the last couple of years to increase student achievement in the school district. So we have significantly increased professional development for our educators. We've implemented a new math curriculum and we've implemented a new reading curriculum in the district -- the first comprehensive K-8 reading curriculum that the district has seen in 15 years -- while at the same time decreasing class sizes in the K through fourth grade time frame.
And I think, you know, we can't ignore COVID, and remote and hybrid learning. And over the summer, with kids coming back, we provided a comprehensive summer learning program. We have a lot of resources that are in the district right now, from social services to tutors for every student who wants it to working closely with parents to ensure that the connection is there so that the educators and the parents are communicating so that we can best meet the needs of our students in the district.
Rick Ganley: Police reform and the role of police has been another issue at the forefront of conversations happening in Manchester. There have been many protests and marches down Elm Street this past year calling for police reform. Meanwhile, I know you've expanded the number of police officers in the department's community policing division and you have the endorsement, I know, of former police chief, Carlo Capano. Do you support some police reform measures?
Joyce Craig: Well, I think it's important to look at what's happening locally. And in the city of Manchester, our police, I'm grateful for the work that they've done, the outreach they do into the community and to the non-profits, again, here. The health and safety of our community is my top priority. And as you mentioned, we have invested significant resources to keep our community safe. We have added over 30 officers over the last three years. And I think it's important to note at the same time, we've increased annual training for our police officers from six hours to 40 hours, and that training includes things like de-escalation as well as cultural competency. We're increasing foot patrols and community policing. Again, our police officers are working hard to form relationships with our community, so there's trust there. And so I support their efforts and what's happening locally.
Rick Ganley: Well, community policing has been around for decades as a concept, though, and we're still seeing, of course, increasing calls for police reform. Is community policing really reform?
Joyce Craig: You know, I guess I'll talk to what we're doing here in the city. Again, the things that I've already mentioned, but I think it's also important to note what we've done with the federal American Rescue Funds to really implement public safety, public health, new evidence based programs. They include community health workers in every ward in the city of Manchester. They include park rangers. And then they include a team to address the quality of life issues in our neighborhoods, such as trash pickup, graffiti removal and cutting back overgrowth -- so sort of neighborhood beautification efforts. And I'll just add that these [are] evidence based programs. There's another one, too, that's a violent crime initiative that started recently, and we're already seeing results. So through those efforts, they've seized 11 illegal guns off the streets of Manchester, 830 grams of meth and 543 grams of fentanyl. So again, it's evidence based programs, working with the community together to effect positive change in our city.
Rick Ganley: The COVID pandemic has highlighted the inequity within health care and public health systems. People of color and people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by this virus. How are you planning to address ongoing equality issues with health care in Manchester?
Joyce Craig: Our health department has done a tremendous job when it comes to providing testing and vaccinations to address COVID. And we will continue to do extensive outreach as we've been doing to make sure people understand that this is a safe vaccination, and that really the only way that we can get out of this is to see a larger percent of individuals get vaccinated so that we can reach herd immunity. But it's the constant outreach. It's getting into the community. It's getting to where people are and we will continue to do that.
Rick Ganley: You know, the pandemic has led to mistrust in public health networks across the country in all kinds of demographics and all kinds of people, including, you know, many here in New Hampshire. How do you work with your regional health network to build trust within local communities about your health care network?
Joyce Craig: It's getting out into the community. It's, you know, over the years I've built a coalition of individuals in this community who I constantly work with. I've put together a multicultural advisory board here in the city of Manchester, working with them to get the word out. Communication is key in all of this, and that's what we've been doing. We've been getting out into the community. We've been talking to people one-on-one and we'll continue to do that.