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Manchester's Race for Mayor Sounds All Too Familiar

Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas is running for a fifth term but he's up against former alderman Joyce Craig who lost to him by just 64 votes last election.

Voters in Manchester head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in the mayoral primary. While there are four candidates in the race, the two heavyweights are the same ones who faced off in the last campaign for mayor.

Incumbent Mayor Ted Gatsas and former alderman Joyce Craig.

It’s been two years since the last mayoral race in Manchester but for many voters in the Queen City, the candidates and the issues have remained the same.

The opioid crisis, crime, education and property taxes continue to be residents’ main concerns. And the candidates have stuck to the same scripts - though their perspectives of course differ.

“It’s time for a change and we can be doing things better in the city and certainly moving us forward,” said Democrat Joyce Craig, who spent six years on the city’s board of aldermen and two on the school board.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, a Republican, frames things this way.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Joyce Craig has been raising more money, knocking on more doors and making more calls for her second rematch against incumbent Mayor Ted Gatsas.

“There’s no question the city is moving in the right direction – there’s a lot of great things that are happening," Gatsas said.

The candidates do share a basic biography. Both were born and raised in Manchester, graduated from public schools in the city and went to UNH.

When they faced off in 2015, Craig lost by just 64 votes. That narrow margin led many to believe she’d jump into this year’s race. Since she formally announced her candidacy in March, she’s hired more staff and has raised a third more in campaign contributions than two years ago.

She’s also been doing plenty of door to door campaigning. And has had some national Democratic politicians campaigning for her, too, such as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti last month and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a few weeks.

While Craig says her campaign is getting momentum - with Gatsas she’s facing a bit of an institution in Queen City politics.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Mayor Ted Gatsas mingles with residents and city police officers at a local McDonalds in Manchester.

He’s served nearly two decades in various elected positions - the last eight as Mayor, so he seems to have little trouble finding friendly faces around town.  

But UNH Political Science Professor Dante Scala said Gatsas’ long stint in office can also pose challenges.

“I think part of the burden of being the incumbent is that you get to take credit but you also have to take blame," Scala said. "He has a lot of mileage on him as a mayor. So, one concern there has to be going in is: is there a point where there is too much mileage?”

This is starting to play out already this campaign. Gatsas received criticism for a delay in notifying parents of a rape at West High. He’s also getting flak for the mishandling of domestic violence cases at the city solicitor’s office. And for the continued drug crisis in the city.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti stumps for candidate Joyce Craig last month in Manchester.

Gatsas, though, said these attacks are merely political. He’d rather talk about things like the remodeling of the downtown, new businesses that have moved to the city and focus on fiscal matters.

“People are very nervous about change when it comes to their taxes – they know that I’m going to be the watchdog for their taxes," he said. "I have that veto pen and people know that I will use it.”

The top two finishers in Tuesday’s primary will be on the November ballot. With Gatsas and Craig all but assured to take these spots – it gives the two candidates another few months to make their pitch to voters.

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