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Victoria Sullivan Transcript: We need to have tough conversations to rebuild trust

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Former state representative Victoria Sullivan is running against incumbent Joyce Craig in the race for mayor of Manchester. It’s a rematch between the two candidates from two years ago.

NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Sullivan about the top issues facing the city. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

You can read and listen to Rick’s interview with Joyce Craig here.

Rick Ganley: Well, 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 in low income areas. What are your plans for making housing more affordable in the city?

Victoria Sullivan: Yeah. So you know, that comes down to the inventory that we have here. That's what always drives the market. We have so many abandoned houses and abandoned properties around our city -- some of them are actually already owned by the city -- that we could change to repurpose. So, you know, when I speak to business owners that are willing to take on some of these properties, they're up against some regulations that make it cost prohibitive. So we really need to look at what we are doing as far as regulating our way into these situations. We can also work with some commercial property owners and builders to see if we could give tax incentives for people that are willing to take over these homes and also work with the banks to get some low interest loans for them, for the renovations. That would give us some more inventory in the market, and that would help us to drive down some of these costs. And it's a faster solution than trying to build new buildings.

Rick Ganley: Do you have an idea, though, of how many units you could potentially increase in the city of Manchester by this plan?

Victoria Sullivan: So I know that we've got two and three tenement homes around the city that are being used, for lack of a better term, as drug dens. People squat there. They party there, and they're really blights to the neighborhood. And if we could take those and incentivize people, even to be owner occupied, it would make a huge difference in our neighborhoods. But again, like I said, there are other buildings and I don't have the number. I've reached out to try to get the number of buildings that are owned by the city of Manchester, currently, that we could use. I don't have that number on hand, but I was talking to an assessor who believes that it's a significant number that would be very helpful.

Rick Ganley: Education was a large focus in the last debate between you and incumbent Mayor Joyce Craig. At the center of that discussion was services for non-English speaking families. I know Manchester has the largest population of immigrant and refugee families in the state. What would you do differently for students and families?

Victoria Sullivan: The first thing that we need to do is we need to open our doors to our families once again. You know, I'm a mom, I've got two teenage sons now. And when they were little, I started to see the difference in elementary school between the two. They're about two years apart. And when my older son started school, parents were very much welcome as part of the community for our schools. As my second son came along up through the elementary school, we were really relegated to be fundraisers and were no longer part of the conversations and weren't in the buildings. We weren't, you know, volunteering in the classrooms as we had before. I currently work with [the University of New Hampshire] and the Department of Education. And one of the programs that we work on is called the Karen Mapp Framework. And Karen Mapp is a professor out of Harvard that has developed this framework that really breaks down the relationships between the parents, teachers and the administrators to start building those relationships up again, to have trust between the two. And when we see that happening, when we see families come back into our schools, we see a huge difference. This is vital.

We've seen 40 developmental assets being used too, across the state, for an after school program that's actually for parents. And that has been incredibly helpful to our immigrant and our refugee families. Because not only are they making relationships in the building, they're understanding our culture in a different way. Some places don't really have the concentration on education or an importance on education, as we do here in the United States. And parents are often not a part of those communities. So letting them know that this is important, giving them tools to be better partners in their children's education is really important. And this isn't reinventing the wheel. These aren't hard things to do. We can start this on day one when I take office. We already have the tools available through the New Hampshire Department of Education, and I'm really looking forward to bringing, especially, these families into the fold because once we do that, we can support their children and we can see drastic improvement very quickly.

Rick Ganley: 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 in the city. Do you support any police reform measures?

Victoria Sullivan: So I support our police. I did a "back the blue" event last summer, but I also think that there are places where we can improve in every department. So sitting down with the police officers, seeing how we can better utilize them in the community, really taking them out of the cars and having them walk the beat again and talking to the neighbors and the people in the community is going to be really important when it comes to building those relationships. But I think we also need to look inward and not outward. What's happening in other cities and around the country isn't what's happening here in Manchester. We have a very strong police force and, you know, many of them live here. So they are neighbors too. And I think we really need to not be looking at national agendas that are being pushed. We'll look at what we're doing here at home with our own community and just work on those relationships in our streets, with our police officers, with the youth, especially and with our citizens.

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 equity issues when it comes to health care in Manchester?

Victoria Sullivan: So we do have good community resources here in Manchester. We've got Amoskeag Health, and we've got some other resources. And as a former legislator, I have a working relationship with the state and with Gov. Sununu. And those are issues that we need to talk about on the state level as well as the local level. And I'm looking forward to having those conversations. I know there was more money put in recently, for example, for mental health, which is going to be very helpful to our city when it comes to helping the homeless and with some of the crime that we have here on the streets. But that's not necessarily just a municipal conversation. This is a conversation we need to have on the state level to make sure that all of our cities and all of our citizens are treated equally and fairly.

Rick Ganley: The pandemic has led to a lot of mistrust in public health networks, though, across the country and including here in New Hampshire. Are you planning to work with Manchester's regional health network to build some trust within local communities where trust has been eroded?

Victoria Sullivan: Sure, I think through this conversation you may have determined that I'm all about the community and relationships that we build here, and I really think that's where all of our solutions lie. So in any of our relationships that are strained between whether it's the government, or its non-profits, or organizations that people need for health care, we really need to have conversations that break everything down and that are honest and truthful. That's the only way that we build trust back up, right? Even if they're not pleasant conversations, we have to have tough conversations in order to be able to build those relationships back up. And it's imperative that you have trust between people and their health care.