A busy scene outside the Ward 4 polling location in Concord, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (Zoey Knox/NHPR)
First-time candidate Jay Ruais was the big winner in New Hampshire’s municipal elections Tuesday, claiming a narrow victory in a closely-fought race to become the next mayor of Manchester.
The campaign between Ruais — a National Guard member and former Republican congressional staffer — and Democratic Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh turned on core economic issues like housing, downtown revitalization, and homelessness in the state’s largest city. But in cities across the state Tuesday, voters voiced similar concerns about their local economies as they cast ballots in races for mayor, city council and other municipal positions.
"The homelessness issue we have here, as well as the costs of housing, are probably the biggest issues for me,” said Brendan Grothe, a voter in Manchester’s Ward 11. “So I'm voting for whoever I think has got the best ideas to try and address those issues."
Nearly all of the state’s 13 cities held elections for key municipal offices Tuesday, and eight cities had contested mayoral elections. In Manchester, Ruais will succeed outgoing Mayor Joyce Craig who chose not to seek reelection and is instead running for New Hampshire governor next year. He defeated Cavanaugh, who was endorsed by Craig and promised to build on her record if elected, 51% to 49%.
“Today, the voters of Manchester spoke, and affirmed our message that Manchester has a great deal of promise and in order to reach our full potential we must bring our city together and tackle the challenges we have,” Ruais said in a victory statement last night.
A promise of a new approach
Throughout his campaign, Ruais stressed the need for a new approach to leading Manchester, particularly when it comes to the issues of homelessness and crime. Ruais spoke frequently about his own experience with alcohol addiction and his path to sobriety as giving him a fresh perspective on how to help those struggling with similar issues.
Outside the Ward 11 polling station, LeeAnne Roehl said homelessness is a top concern for her — but so are other issues that impact housing security.
“We need a new mayor that's going to take care of low income housing,” said Roehl. “They're building all these new apartment buildings, but they're not for people like me who are on Social Security. They're not for people who can barely pay rent. Those are people who have money.”
At the Ward 4 polls, change was on the mind of voter Elenore Labranche, who said Manchester needs a leader who puts the city's needs first.
"I want someone who really cares about the people, and not their self image and all that crappy stuff,” Labranche said. “And some things have to change.”
Economic concerns in Nashua and Concord
In Nashua, incumbent Mayor Jim Donchess won reelection over challenger Mike Soucy, a county commissioner and former city policeman.
Marlene Moyer, who cast her ballot in the city’s Ward 1, said she hopes Nashua's leaders can do more to boost the center of the city.
"I'd like to see Nashua become a more vibrant downtown,” Moyer said. “I'm a volunteer at the Nashua Center for the Arts, and I'd like to see more complements to that, to bring more people here."
Voters in Nashua’s Ward 4 also cast ballots in a State House special election to fill the seat formerly held by Democratic state Rep. David Cote, who resigned earlier this year after three decades in office. Cote was reelected in 2022, but he was never sworn in due to chronic health conditions.
Cote was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging restrictions on remote legislative participation instituted by House Republican leaders. The lawsuit has since been dismissed.
Concord will also have its first new mayor in 15 years, after incumbent Jim Bouley declined to seek reelection. Byron Champlin, a Democrat who has served on the city council for 10 years, was elected mayor in a three-way race with nearly 75% of the vote Tuesday.
At the city’s Ward 5 polling place, John Colquitt said housing affordability and the high cost of living were on his mind as he cast his ballot.
“I'm only 25, so, I mean, I want to have my own house,” Colquitt said. “I want to live in my own place, have a yard. And I just feel like it's so expensive to the point where that's not really an option for me. There's a lot of young people moving out of New Hampshire because they can't afford to live here.”
New leaders for Berlin and Somersworth
In Somersworth, Matt Gerding was elected mayor, succeeding outgoing Mayor Dana Hilliard, who did not seek reelection. Deb Klick, a longtime Somersworth resident, said she wants new leadership to continue developing the city’s downtown.
“Well, we’ve lived here for 30 years and [are] finally seeing a lot of work on the infrastructure,” said Klick. “So there’s a lot of changes going on in the whole area and I’d like to see us be a part of it, and not kind of get passed over.”
Somersworth voter Kimberly Shoen said she wants to see development that makes use of the city’s empty and blighted spaces.
“I absolutely think that we should be putting more housing in,” Shoen said. “We have a plaza that is literally right behind us. Why aren’t we building up on that plaza? We have empty buildings in that plaza. We have a Rite Aid that just filed for bankruptcy. Why can’t that be housing?”
Berlin will also have a new mayor after Tuesday's election, for the first time in 14 years. Newcomer Robert Cone narrowly ousted longtime mayor Paul Grenier in a four-way race. Cone ran on a campaign to boost local schools, develop more housing, and attract small businesses to the Coos County city.
In Keene, former state senator Jay Kahn was elected mayor, defeating Bradford Hutchinson, 91% to 9%.
In Rochester, Mayor Paul Callaghan defeated challenger Susan Rice to win a second term.
And in Portsmouth, voters largely favored incumbents on the city council — returning Deaglan McEachern and Joanna "Jo" Kelley as mayor and assistant mayor, respectively.
The mayors of Claremont, Dover and Laconia were reelected without opposition.
This story was updated on Wednesday, Nov. 8 with additional race results.
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