Local elections matter. There’s no way around it — the candidates elected to local city councils, school boards, and other elected bodies set a community’s course. These boards develop budgets, approve major development projects, and decide how and when to fix infrastructure (or not), among hundreds of other decisions that affect our everyday lives. Think about it: when you’re mad about the city’s property tax rate, who are you going to call? The president, the governor, or a city councilor?
This year’s election finds Portsmouth once again balancing new growth — particularly in the downtown area — while maintaining services and preserving the city’s character. What that growth should look like, and what shape the city’s character takes, has led to a number of high-profile debates in the last two years.
New developments in downtown, particularly in the North End, have changed the physical landscape of the city, and more changes are coming. Earlier this year, councilors approved a new parking garage on Deer Street, while the HarborCorp project, slated to be built on Deer Street between Maplewood Avenue and Russell Street and which includes a conference center, Whole Foods supermarket, and condos, remains on the horizon.
The pace of growth, along with the surge in the number of high-priced condos, has left many residents, and officials, concerned that living in Portsmouth is growing increasingly out of reach for the middle class. That growth affects other areas, as well, from regional water supply concerns to ongoing discussions about upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The next council will also address debates around the city’s culture and character. Officials are still working on an ordinance that would allow residents to rent out their homes for short-term stays through websites like Airbnb, and debate continues over a transportation ordinance that eliminated the city’s taxi commission and taxi medallion system and approved ride sharing companies like Uber, so long as they provide proof of insurance and background checks for drivers. Complaints about noise at Prescott Park Arts Festival events have also become a significant issue. So too has the city’s police commission and senior police department leadership following the Geraldine Webber case.
Portsmouth is changing, and the discussions about how to manage that change will continue in 2015 and beyond. There are many ways to take part in the discussion, but one of the first steps is to participate in this year’s election.
Note: Candidates are listed alphabetically. Responses were edited and condensed for the print edition of the voter’s guide. Full responses, as well as additional questions, are available here.
Candidate Marion Ward is not actively campaigning and declined to participate in the survey. Incumbent councilors Stefany Shaheen, Zelita Morgan, and Robert Lister (mayor) are not running for reelection. The candidate who gets the most total votes becomes the new mayor.
Meet the candidates:
The Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce will host several candidate forums at 3S Artspace, located at 319 Vaughan St. Register at portsmouthchamber.org.
The Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers and Portsmouth Public Media TV have produced a series of candidate interviews that will broadcast on Comcast channel 98 through Nov. 3 and are available online at portsmouthtaxpayers.com and PPMTV’s YouTube channel.
When and where to vote
Municipal elections take place Tuesday, Nov. 3. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Portsmouth votes using a ward-based system. Polling locations are:
Ward 1: New Franklin School, 1 Franklin Drive (off Woodbury Ave.)
Ward 2: Portsmouth Middle School (Connie Bean Gym entrance), 155 Parrott Ave.
Ward 3: Sherburne School (Robert J. Lister Academy), 35 Sherburne Road
Ward 4: Dondero Elementary School, 32 Van Buren Ave.
Ward 5: Little Harbor School, 50 Clough Drive (off South Street)
You can register to vote at your polling location. Remember: New Hampshire state law requires that you bring a photo ID with you to vote. If you do not have a photo ID, you’ll be required to fill out a “challenged voter affidavit.” Contact the city clerk’s office for more information.