Portsmouth’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Below, incumbent City Councilor Esther Kennedy responds to PortsmouthNH.com’s candidate questionnaire.
Occupation: Director of Student Services Gilford School District (23 years); Professor of Graduate Studies Plymouth State University(14years); Owner of Esther’s Marina LLC (20 years); Teaching Today for Tomorrow LLC (8 years)
Civic experience: Neighborhood organization Friends of the South End. Citywide, I have participated on Portsmouth Listens, as a Portsmouth City Councilor and sat on the following committees: Pierce Island, Port of NH, HDC, skateboard park, and Rockingham County Planning Commission. At the state level, The Governor’s commission for Marina Fisheries, Governor’s task force on Autism, the Advisory Committee to the Governor on Special Education. Plymouth State University, NHTI board of Education, and many other professional organizations.
Years living in Portsmouth: 33
1) Do you think the city should impose any new measures or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time?
The one thing we have learned, you cannot plan today for tomorrow when it comes to Covid-19. This council has done a great job in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. We had five meetings as a council when the pandemic hit and the city closed down. The council along with management has kept the city going during these unprecedented times. I think at this point we stay in our current pattern until we see what tomorrow will bring.
2) Do you think the Prescott Park Master Plan should be updated in any way? Specifically, do you think the stage should be temporary or permanent? Covered or uncovered?
I believe we should always be looking at our Master Plans to keep them current. I have supported a temporary stage for the park. It is clear this was a gift to the city so the people can enjoy being on the waterfront. I truly believe this should be our focus as a city.
3) How do you feel about the current pace of development in Portsmouth?
The most pressing issues facing the city of Portsmouth is uncontrolled growth. As a city we need to revisit the master plan and zoning rules. The residents need to come together to decide what makes our city a place they like to live. The new council needs to put into action zoning changes at the start of their term.
4) What, if anything, do you think should be done to increase access to affordable housing?
We have three options that will allow us to look at the problem of affordable housing in Portsmouth. Unfortunately, all three options have pros and cons.
1) We could be working with adjoining communities to support a task force to look at how to handle the need of affordable housing. Affordable housing is a Seacoast problem not just a Portsmouth issue.
2) We could amend our zoning laws to financially support or mandate affordable housing to be built by our developers.
3) We could give landlords tax incentives to offer lower rates and keep the city taxes low for the landlords.
As a Portsmouth resident which option would you like to see?
5) What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s bike lanes?
I believe we need to revisit the master plan for bike lanes. We need to listen to Portsmouth Residents and see what they would like to see in their streets.
6) Regarding the McIntyre building, what do you feel is the best path forward to avoid litigation and get the project done?
We need to finish what has been started. The council voted to have four representatives from the council negotiate the McIntyre project. I know for many in our city this has been a long process. However, given strong personalities and a pandemic, I’m amazed we have gotten as far as we have. I, like many of our citizens, wish we could have more information and be part of the process. Unfortunately, this cannot happen when you are negotiating and dealing with legal issues. We have been told publicly by the committee, “We should be getting information very soon” and “Once we hear from the federal government there will be new opportunities for public input.” I, like you, have to respect their hard work, long hours and wait to hear.
7) What additional measures do you think the city should take to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts?
The city needs to continue its work with our experts at University of New Hampshire. This work will include a constant review of the needs of Portsmouth as we learn more about climate change, in particular sea level rise. The city is doing some mitigation with storm water but we have a lot more to do. The City also needs to continue to work with the Rockingham County Planning Commission to learn how our needs compare with the rest of the seacoast when it comes to climate change.
8) Do you support the idea of seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining at restaurants — even after the pandemic has (hopefully) subsided?
I believe we will need to make sure the pandemic is over and then we need to have a public discussion on the topic. We need to hear from the residents and see how they would like to move forward with outdoor dining.
9) What do you think the council can do to cultivate an environment of respect and collaboration and minimize hostility in local government?
As someone that is sitting on the council currently, I do not see the hostility. For most of our term we were sitting on Zoom in our living rooms. You can watch the recordings, no one is screaming at one another. Yes, there is difference of opinion on certain issues but that is why we were elected. People elect us to express their thoughts and ideas about the city. It is clear that we as residents do not always agree on how our city should move forward. We have to work through items, ask questions and get public input. At the end of the day, we can get a nine to zero vote with this council. This took place this past Thursday (Oct. 14); after months of work and changes to meet the residents’ needs on bike lanes, the council passed it nine to zero.
10) Aside from the issues already raised in this questionnaire, please outline ONE other priority you would address as a city councilor over the next two years.
This council’s one priority is to finish what we have started. We have a lot of projects that we are working on. The following are just some of the projects: Budget, drinking water lines, audit committee, sound barriers, community campus, revisit gateways, McIntyre, sustainable practices, cemetery committee, skatepark, zoning, board appointments, Islington Street, affordable housing, more public comment.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
A campaign witch!
To see other candidates’ responses, click here.