Meet the candidates running for At-Large councilors
|Published: 10-14-2023 4:00 PM
The race to fill two community-wide positions on the Concord City Council features five candidates who share many of the same priorities like economic development, affordable housing, diversity and equity initiatives and public safety.
But with one incumbent and four newcomers, each candidate is promising to bring something unique to the 15-member council that will be led by a new mayor for the first time in 16 years.
Voters in each of the city’s 10 wards will choose between incumbent Nathan Fennessy, Taylor Hall, Matthew Hicks, Judith Kurtz and Kevin Porter for two at-large council seats.
For Kurtz, maintaining equitable and sustainable development is a key focus of her campaign, while Porter said he wants to tackle homelessness and accessibility. Fennessy and Hall share similar commitments to increase the commercial property tax base to lessen the burden on homeowners, while Hicks is committed to affordability for all residents in the form of housing, transportation and accessibility.
Hoping to maintain his seat on the council, Fennessy promises to renew his focus on economic development and expand the commercial property tax base in the city, which remained flat during the pandemic.
He said he’s running for the same reasons he ran in the first place – he wants to continue to make Concord a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.
“I’ve enjoyed my time so far, and I feel like there are a lot of great things going on and challenges coming down the road,” Fennessy said. “I am well-placed to continue working on the things that are good and dealing with the things that are going to change. We are losing the mayor and we are going to have a fair amount of turnover, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it will be tough to lose that institutional knowledge.”
If residents want to keep the city’s public safety, infrastructure and amenities affordable, growing the commercial property tax base is crucial, Fennessy said. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the occupancy of commercial property has decreased while the tax burden on residents has increased.
Other top priorities include developing safe and affordable housing in the city, reducing homelessness and continuing to support city infrastructure and public safety by increasing retention and supporting recruitment, Fennessy said.
The council voted unanimously last week to add another $500,000 to boost police pay to slow turnover in the department.
“I do have some concerns about our continuing ability to deliver the level of service that people expect with our current staffing levels,” he continued. “Replacing infrastructure has had a tremendous positive impact on the community, and I want to make sure we are thinking ahead so that we can continue to upgrade and continue to replace aging infrastructure, which will save us in the future from potential costs and disruption of services.”
Over the last four years on the council, Fennessy was proud to see the Exit 17 shopping plaza move forward, which increased the tax base for the Penacook School District.
Throughout his term, he served on the Parking Committee, the Beaver Meadow Advisory Committee, the Recreations and Parks Advisory Committee and the Ad-Hoc Fee Committee and chaired the Ad-Hoc Building Committee for Beaver Meadow. Before he was elected to City Council, he served on the Concord School Board from 2015-18.
Fennessy, who grew up in Dover, graduated from Georgetown University with a dual bachelor’s degree in government and history before attending law school at the Catholic University of America. In 2013, he moved to Concord with his family and has been a lawyer at the Preti Flaherty firm since.
During the last election cycle in 2021, Hall ran against Mayor Jim Bouley, and lost by a 4-to-1 margin.
“The reason I ran two years ago for mayor was because I was concerned about Bouley’s potential conflicts of interest and with his day job as a lobbyist, running unopposed. I wanted to be able to offer voters an alternative,” Hall said. “Now that he’s no longer running and those issues aren’t relevant, it made more sense for me to position myself into a role that may be a better fit for me.”
Living in Ward 3, Hall is pleased with Jennifer Kretovic’s efforts as his councilor and didn’t want to run against her knowing she’s serving the city well, he said.
“My top goal is to be a voice for the taxpayers of Concord. I feel like right now that the average resident of Concord doesn’t have a strong voice in city government, and I want to be the one to change that and represent the issues of the people,” Hall said.
By adding businesses to the city of Concord, the city would attract younger people and increase the quality of life and work/life balance. In turn, the increase in commercial property values would decrease the tax burden on residents, furthering the quality of life here, he said.
When asked about homelessness, diversifying the city of Concord and making the city more inclusive and accessible, Hall said those issues fall under the category of quality of life and he plans to focus on them as a whole, not individually.
“I am someone that is willing to listen to people, understand their concerns, work with them and get to the root cause of their problems,” Hall said. “I think that if the voters of Concord are looking for someone who is going to keep their top interest in mind, thinks about what is best for them and understands the troubles of homeowners, then I am the person they should vote for.”
Hall graduated from Xavier University with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial studies. He moved to Concord in 2013 and works at Southern New Hampshire University in financial services assisting students with financial aid.
Hicks, already a member of the planning board, a state representative and the headmaster of the Shaker Road School, wants to try his hand as a city councilor because he shares many of the same goals as the people of Concord, he said.
Economic development, secure and affordable housing, police retention, transparency, transportation and equitable policies are just some of the initiatives Hicks would focus on as an at-large councilor.
“Affordability is more than just housing; it’s taxes and broadening the tax base. We are losing commercial real estate taxes, and it’s putting more pressure on the residential property side,” Hicks said. “The housing supply is critically low, the younger people can’t afford homes and the older people can’t afford to stay in their homes.”
Similar to Fennessy, Hicks wants to put more effort into retention and recruitment at the police department, increase safety in schools and make sure the city stays on the path of diversity, equity and justice initiatives.
“One of the biggest strengths of Concord is our diversity, and I want to make sure the city fully includes as many voices as we can in our government and make government more accessible,” Hicks said. “Let’s bring it to the people; don’t make the people come to us.”
Additionally, Hicks wants to expand transportation routes and hours while ensuring the city reaches its environmental goals by 2030.
Being an at-large councilor intrigued Hicks more than representing a specific ward, he said. Living in three different wards while going through the Concord School District and working gave him perspective of the city as a whole and made him want to represent it in its entirety.
“I am running for the city of Concord. I’m not running for any personal interest; I’m not a single-issue person unless that issue is the city,” Hicks said. “I can work with just about anybody and in my work as an educator, I have many different viewpoints and goals, and I’d like to work toward those goals together with different ideas about the way to get there.”
Hicks graduated from Hamilton College with a bachelor’s degree in public policy before graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a master’s in education. He received his teacher certification from Harvard University and went back to the University of New Hampshire for his PhD.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to take my experience and put it to good use in the city and toward some of the problems we have,” Hicks said. “I think I have the experience and the knowledge to do that in a constructive way.”
An activist at heart, Kurtz wants to deliver her advocacy work to the residents of Concord by representing them as an at-large councilor.
Since moving to Concord in 2019, Kurtz joined the Concord Greenspace Coalition as the vice president of the board. The nonprofit advocates for environmentally smart growth, equitable development and local climate action to ensure financially resilient, equitable and sustainable communities – goals she hopes to bring city-wide.
“The primary reason I am running for at-large is because the issues that I am interested in are city-wide issues, like zoning, composting and sustainable development,” Kurtz said. “All of the work that I have been doing with Concord Greenspace is city-wide and, for me, it felt like an at-large seat is a continuation of the volunteer work that I have been doing.”
Other priorities include increasing the housing stock, addressing homelessness and expanding public safety, she said. The adoption of a new zoning ordinance could help make a big impact on housing and homelessness, financial resilience, a diversified tax base and economic development. Additionally, she would push for the city to create an action plan on homelessness.
“I think that public safety is entwined with that, because if we increase our housing and residents, we need to increase our public safety,” Kurtz said. “If zoning creates a range of housing to attract young people in Concord, then we won’t continue to struggle as much with recruitment and retention.”
As a former educator and librarian, Kurtz is confident she can research and find positive solutions for change, she said. During her career, she was a high school English teacher, a writing tutor, a library media specialist, a STEM integrator and an adjunct professor. Kurtz graduated from Byrn Mawr College, where she studied theater and English, and later received her master’s in education from St. Michael’s College while working as a professor.
She was recently appointed to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.
“I think a strength that I have to offer City Council is that I’m not an expert in any of these fields, but I am willing to work hard and bring experts to the table to have the conversations and make the decisions that we need to make to move forward,” Kurtz said. “I would bring a fresh voice to city leadership and I am a hard-working, transparent, intelligent individual who really believes that civic engagement and the voices of the people should guide government decisions.”
With a master’s degree in economics and a passion for sustainable and equitable housing, Porter’s focus as an at-large councilor would be on economic development.
For the last nine years, Porter has worked for ROC USA, a Concord-based organization that assists homeowners in manufactured housing to buy their communities and operate them as co-ops, he said. Through this work, he’s seen how powerful it can be to engage diverse constituencies and how people can thrive when they are empowered and given the tools to exceed.
“It needs to be easier to build small, appropriately located housing; the housing crisis is causing people harm right now, whether it’s emotional, physical or financial,” Porter said. “At this time, the city is not where other towns and cities are, and household budgets are strained. I want to give taxpayers relief.”
To do that, Porter wants to see the city focus its efforts on sustainable energy and join Community Power, an initiative designed to save residents money by expanding their electricity choices. Porter predicts the initiative could save residents $20 a month on their electric bill.
Additional priorities include homelessness, diversity and equity efforts, general governance, government accountability and transparency, Porter said.
“I’ve engaged with the city around diversity, equity and inclusion, or rather the lack of,” Porter said. “It led to a deeper look at city boards and commissions, revealing the disparity between the number of people of color in our community versus the number of people of color that have been appointed to boards and commissions. The disparities are stark and there has been resistance in addressing these issues.”
If elected to the at-large position, Porter wants to reinstate the Board of Ethics, which has been idle for the last 11 years, he said.
“Through my job, I’ve worked all over the country and I’ve worked with a lot of different types of people from different backgrounds, and I’ve seen how powerful it can be to engage with diverse constituencies and bring people together over common goals,” Porter said. “Coming out of COVID, people are becoming more aware of things that are happening locally, and many people want to get involved with local government.”
Porter graduated from Bates College with a bachelor’s in economics and received his master’s in economics from the New School for Social Research. He served on the board of directors of Clean Energy New Hampshire from 2015-21, including two years as vice chair. He has advocated for clean energy and more diversity in the city during Concord City Council meetings.
“The pattern of inaction and maintaining the status quo in Concord costs all of us,” he wrote on his website. “There are better ways to do things, and there are many dedicated, talented people who can bring a great depth of experience and perspective to the table. But when these individuals are excluded, we shortchange ourselves. We can do better, and we deserve better.”