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Rochester’s mayor-elect wants to promote more economic development in the city

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Republican Paul Callaghan is now mayor-elect of the city of Rochester. He won the position in Tuesday’s city election.

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NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley talked with him this week to learn more about what he’s hoping to accomplish in the next two years. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Rick Ganley: Well, Mayor-elect Callaghan, congratulations on your win.

Paul Callaghan: Thank you very much. I'm very excited.

Rick Ganley: Well, what are some of your top priorities as you step into office come January?

Paul Callaghan: Rochester has improved some economic development, especially in our downtown. So I want to maintain that momentum. And we're in a strong fiscal position. So I want to make sure we stay that way, and I want to promote growth through economic development.

Rick Ganley: Are the things that you'd like to implement that have not been implemented?

Paul Callaghan: There's two pieces, I think, that can really help our downtown. Our downtown is really starting to turn around in a positive way. There's some significant financial investment in two buildings. And the city actually bought those buildings and have sold them to developers, and the developers have taken advantage of a tax incentive program. So that's good.

But I would like to see, you know, more of a vision than something that is going to happen immediately. But I like to see some work along the Cocheco River, which is behind our downtown. And we have the fairgrounds, which can be connected to our downtown. It's not too far away. And the fairgrounds is, I'd say, about 75 acres. And there used to be a huge fair, but in the last few years, there's been some financial issues. I'd like to see the city work with the owners of the fairgrounds and turn that into a green space, sort of like what Prescott Park [in Portsmouth] is.

Rick Ganley: I see, yeah. How about specifically for small businesses in the downtown?

Paul Callaghan: As I mentioned earlier, there are two large buildings that are going to be developed into apartment space. Those would be market rate. And so you're going to have discretionary income coming into the downtown. And people don't want to shop too far away. So I think just naturally, there will be more retail shops that take place downtown.

We have a pretty good arts program going on and cultural program. We have the [Rochester Opera House]. Rent has increased in Portsmouth and in Dover. I think some of these artists may move into Rochester.

Rick Ganley: You've had a decades-long career in law enforcement, including 25 years at the Rochester Police Department. Police reform has been a focus in conversations on both the state and municipal level this past year. Are there any improvements that you'd like to see in the police department?

Paul Callaghan: No. The Rochester Police Department, they're pretty well kind of leaders in the pack in New Hampshire and in law enforcement reform. And I know that the police commission, and the chief and the chief staff are following all the recommendations and requirements through the state law that was passed last year. Specifically, what I like to see with the police department is they're experiencing what a lot of police departments are experiencing all over the country is that they're down officers. You know, they're having a more difficult time filling those positions.

Once they're up and running and the police come out full-staffed, you know, I'd like to see them instead of responding, call to call to call in almost like a triage situation, when they get the more officers on the street, they'll be able to get out of their cars, walk in some of these hot spots, build relationships with these folks that are living in these hot spots. And I think they'll be able to solve some crimes and improve the quality of life for residents downtown.

Rick Ganley: What about some additional city services? What are you looking at?

Paul Callaghan: For additional city services, I'll have to really dive myself into the budget, and work with the city manager and work with the council on issues that they believe will come up. But I know one of the topics, again it ties into law enforcement, having sort of like a health coordinator that can work with the police through the welfare department. I know that there's talk about that right now.

And I'm for that additional service because the police deal with these folks who may have a mental health issue, or homeless issue, or physical issue or all the above combined. And the police will have that contact with that person, but then it goes away. So it'd be nice to have someone be able to follow up. My only concern with that is I want to make sure that position is evidence-based and it's best practices. So I'm sure it will be, but that would be my only concern with that position.