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September 07. 2013 10:55PM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: Gatsas touts Craig's appointment to city post

ON TUESDAY, Mayor Ted Gatsas unveiled his pick to be the city's new economic development chief, William Craig, who has been policy director for Gov. Maggie Hassan. The mayor was notably enthusiastic about the pick - stating that Craig would be "an asset to us for an awfully long time" - considering that Craig was tapped for a job that Gatsas didn't really think should exist.

Gatsas' selection brought to an end a months long debate that began when the former economic development chief, Jay Minkarah, abruptly resigned last November. Gatsas had argued that bringing jobs to the city and boosting its economy could and should be handled by the mayor's office. In the end, a majority of aldermen, who were concerned that a mayor-led economic development office would become "politicized," prevailed.

Craig is a law school graduate who worked on the Democratic governor's campaign before joining her staff. Craig also has a solid Democratic pedigree; he's the son of Jim Craig, the former House minority leader.
Naturally, questions have emerged about Craig's economic development credentials, and there has also been grumbling that Gatsas' pick was politically calculated as a way for the Republican mayor to please Democratic leaders in a city that can swing either way in an election.

Gatsas found the suggestion laughable - literally, he guffawed.
"I do what's in the best interest for the citizens of Manchester. I never base any decision on anything political," he said.

Gatsas also said of Craig: "He's a lifelong resident of Manchester. He's a great communicator. I believe he knows city and state government."

Gatsas further noted that he had only chosen from two candidates. The field of nine applicants had been narrowed by a special committee that included the city's human resources director and three department heads.

Salary was likely also a factor in the field of candidates. Craig will be getting $68,000; Minkarah was making more than $100,000.

In case you were wondering, Craig has a family connection to Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig. Her husband is Jim Craig's first cousin. Still, Craig knows and likes the guy.
"Will is intelligent, wicked funny and works around the clock," she wrote in an email. "No question he will be good for the city."

All of this bodes well for the likelihood that aldermen will confirm Craig by the necessary eight-vote majority at their October meeting.

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Alderman Patrick Arnold continues to make crime a central issue in his bid for mayor. On Thursday, his campaign issued a statement proposing a four-point plan to "fight crime in Manchester."

"I know that these proposals will help solve the crime epidemic that is ravaging our streets," Arnold said in the release. Arnold has never been one for understatement. Whether crime is surging has been the subject of debate.

Still, there's no question there has been a spike in burglaries this summer, and Arnold's release came on the same day that the police held a community meeting attended by nearly 100 people. Gatsas was there, as were several aldermen, including Arnold.

Gatsas told me that he believed "crime is an issue" in the city. But he suggested Arnold was playing politics with his latest news release.

"He's an alderman. I'm shocked he wouldn't bring his proposal to the full board, or at least have the chief take a look at its worthiness," Gatsas said.

The perception that Arnold was trying to score political points may not have been helped by the fact that a campaign staffer was handing out copies of his crime plan at the community meeting.

The top-line proposal in Arnold's plan is to increase the total police force by three to four officers a year over the next five years.

Arnold notes in the release: "This can be done within the confines of the tax cap."

How's that exactly? "It's a question of priorities," he told me. In other words, money would be reallocated from elsewhere in the budget.

In addition, Arnold said he, unlike Gatsas, would seek federal grants to hire more officers. The mayor last year argued against accepting federal grants to hire more officers on the grounds that the city would have to cover their salaries when the grants ran out after a few years.

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Last week, the aldermen voted to move forward on a $60,000 proposal to rehab Harriman Park, situated in the center city area. As part of the plan, the old basketball courts, which are no longer being used, would be replaced with a parking lot. Maybe there's a lost lyric there.

Much of the debate at the aldermen's meeting Tuesday concerned the trend of basketball hoops disappearing from the central city; neighbors apparently don't like the noise and the type of folks the courts can attract in the later hours.

The vote was lopsided in favor of endorsing the plan, but Gatsas clearly doesn't like what's happening to the courts.
"Some of the greatest players we've had have come from the inner city," he said, adding, "according to the police I've talked to, there's the ability to meet kids there and talk to them."

Ted Siefer may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.


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