Craig's decision not to seek reelection draws praise, potshots - and thoughts on political future

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Mar. 16—The green flag has been waved in the race for mayor of the state's largest city.

To quote Heath Ledger in 2008's "The Dark Knight": "And here. We. Go."

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig's announcement on Wednesday that she won't seek a fourth term drew reactions ranging from appreciation to elation, with Democrats praising her three terms in office and Republicans ready to move on.

Longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley thanked Craig for her service to the city.

"The leadership and management she provided the people of the Queen City are a testament to the power of Democratic values and responsible, accountable government," Buckley said in a statement.

Manchester Alderman At Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, a Republican, said he could actually feel himself "floating off the couch" when he read the news Thursday.

"What a complete and utter disaster her seemingly never-ending reign has been," Levasseur said. "Joyce Craig has wreaked so much damage onto our city that we now have to spend millions trying to rebrand it."

Levasseur said Craig had "so much potential" when she took office, but she couldn't shake the "unholy grip the far left crazies now have on once-sensible Democrats."

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess said he values the relationship Nashua and Manchester have built "to work towards our shared goals."

"Being the two largest cities in the state, this collaboration is not only important for our residents, but for all Granite Staters," Donchess said in a statement. "I wish Joyce the best in her future endeavors."

Contemplating the future

What might those endeavors look like?

Craig wouldn't confirm — or rule out — a future run for another office, saying only that she will serve the remainder of her term, then "focus on how to best serve our community."

Chris Galdieri, professor of politics at Saint Anselm College, said he thinks the odds are "pretty high" she runs for higher office at some point.

"She's been elected in the state's largest city three times, and that gives her a formidable base of support — electoral, organizational, financial — for a campaign for higher office at some point," Galdieri wrote in an email. "That said, I think a lot of her political future depends on the actions of others."

Galdieri said he doesn't think Craig wants to be "the next Democrat to lose to Chris Sununu," so he finds it hard to see her running for governor if Sununu seeks a fifth term next year.

"Nor do I think she's likely to run against Chris Pappas in a Democratic primary for his House seat," Galdieri said. "And the executive council districts are gerrymandered enough that running for the seat Ted Gatsas holds would probably be a non-starter. So her immediate future will probably involve waiting to see which available options open up as other officeholders make decisions about 2024."

Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire professor of politics, said Craig has gained a lot of experience campaigning over the past decade — and a large donor base as well.

"Both would be assets in a campaign for higher office — Congress, for instance, or the governorship," Scala said. "In addition, New Hampshire now has a lengthy history of electing women to higher office. That would benefit her as well."

One thing she lacks, Scala said, is statewide name recognition.

"Even though she is mayor of the state's largest city, Manchester is not all that large," Scala said. "So outside of Manchester, she will have to work to pass the 'who's that?' test, even inside her own party. And as Ted Gatsas learned in 2016 when he ran for governor, being identified with Manchester is not always a positive thing."

"Tensions between urban and rural (areas) are real, and opponents will be quick to highlight the negative aspects of the city's image."

Candidates in waiting

As of Thursday, only one potential suitor had officially declared their candidacy for mayor — former Republican congressional staffer Jay Ruais. He already has the endorsements of Sununu and former Mayor Gatsas.

Ruais issued a statement thanking Craig for her "willingness to serve our city."

"Our city is filled with a great deal of promise and potential, and this year we have the opportunity to chart a new course by electing a fiscally responsible leader with a fresh vision on how to tackle our challenges with homelessness, public safety and economic development," Ruais said.

Other potential candidates who have expressed interest in recent months include Victoria Sullivan, Rich Girard, Aldermen June Trisciani and Will Stewart, and school board vice chair Jim O'Connell.

On Thursday, Trisciani said she is "incredibly thankful" for Craig's leadership.

"I continue to support Mayor Craig and will continue to work by her side as she works to provide strong leadership while putting the people of Manchester first," Trisciani said. "My team and I are currently considering a run for mayor and will be sharing our plans in the coming week."

Trisciani has a fundraiser for her alderman at-large reelection campaign March 23 at the Puritan Backroom. Could a mayoral campaign announcement come then? Sources suggest it's highly likely.

Stewart said Thursday he is still weighing the pros and cons of a mayoral run.

"I continue to be honored and humbled by those reaching out encouraging me to run for mayor this year," Stewart said in a text. "I am going to talk further with my family and close friends, but I expect to make a decision soon."

Considering another run

Sullivan, who failed in mayoral bids in 2019 and 2021, called Craig's decision not to seek reelection "an opportunity for much-needed change for our city."

Sullivan said Thursday she is "seriously considering" another run for mayor, hoping the third time's the charm.

"Under the leadership of the current board our city has suffered," Sullivan said. "I am grateful for the enormous amount of phone calls and messages I have received asking me to run for mayor.

"I am humbled by your unwavering support," Sullivan said. "The people of Manchester have tired of empty words and political rhetoric. I have been boots on the ground in Manchester for nearly 15 years and have a proven record of leadership."

Girard said while he disagreed strongly with Craig on most issues, he thanked her for serving and wanted to "congratulate her on not making the mistake of running one too many times, as did three of her four predecessors."

Girard said he remains undecided on a mayoral run, promising a decision by April 12.