Joyce Craig considering run for governor

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May 1—Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig took a major step toward running for governor on Monday, forming a committee to explore a 2024 Democratic gubernatorial bid.

Craig, the first woman elected mayor of the Queen City, announced last month she would not seek a fourth term.

Craig said she first ran for mayor with a mission to get Manchester back on track. In an interview this weekend, Craig said during her tenure the city has added "thousands of new jobs, hundreds of affordable housing units, decreased school class sizes, and reduced violent crime by 38 percent."

"As I've had discussions with local leaders across New Hampshire, it is increasingly clear that the same challenges we're working to tackle in Manchester are seen in communities across the state," said Craig. "As mayor, I've collaborated with mayors and town and city officials to address these challenges — and we've made real progress, but there is a lack of support for cities and towns at the state level and I know we can do better."

Craig offered no timetable for a decision on whether she'll run. She said she was excited to "continue having conversations with Granite Staters about how we can put communities and families first, so everyone, no matter where they live in New Hampshire, has the opportunity to succeed."

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, has yet to announce whether he will run for an unprecedented fifth term as governor — or launch a presidential campaign.

During an address last month to the New England Council at Saint Anselm College's New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Sununu touched on the topic of a possible fifth term.

"I'm not saying I am not running again, but you know, I've got to get a real job," Sununu said, chuckling. "My wife is very excited when I say that. I'll be sending all of you resumes shortly."

Regarding his presidential ambitions, Sununu, 48, said he would decide by early August whether he'll enter the race. He has maintained a high national profile over the past year, with frequent appearances on national news shows and at speaking engagements.

GOP: Craig failed

Republican State Chairman Chris Ager responded to Craig's announcement by saying Craig has "unequivocally failed Manchester during her time as Mayor and it is laughable that she wants to bring her disastrous policies to the corner office."

"Joyce Craig has spent the last three and a half years blaming Governor Sununu and the Republican Legislature for all of her failings instead of devising solutions to aid the people of Manchester," Ager said in a statement. "Granite Staters have seen what Joyce Craig has done in Manchester and will not let 'Craig's Chaos' spread to the rest of New Hampshire."

Craig's exploratory committee is headed by former four-term Gov. John Lynch and his wife, Dr. Susan Lynch, and includes former state Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan, state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro and Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, among dozens of other Democratic heavy-hitters.

Manchester state Rep. Patty Cornell will serve as the treasurer of the Joyce Craig for NH Gubernatorial Exploratory Committee.

John Lynch said that during Craig's tenure as mayor she has "fostered opportunities to build an innovative biotech industry, attract high paying jobs, and bring new businesses to the city."

"Joyce's leadership in Manchester and across the state make her the most well-prepared candidate to serve as our next governor, and her record as a winner in tough elections proves she can put together a winning campaign," Lynch said in a statement. "Joyce has the vision, skills, and dedication to be an outstanding governor for the people of New Hampshire."

Depending on Sununu

After Craig's announcement last month that she wouldn't seek a fourth term as mayor, Chris Galdieri, professor of politics at Saint Anselm College, said he though the odds were "pretty high" she would eventually run for higher office.

"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 it's unlikely she'll run if Sununu seeks a fifth term next year.

Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire professor of politics, said last month that 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."

Craig's name has been mentioned for months as a possible candidate for governor. Other Democrats rumored to be interested include Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord. Former state senator Dr. Tom Sherman of Rye, who unsuccessfully ran against Sununu in 2022, said Monday he won't run for governor again in 2024.

pfeely@unionleader.com