In the final Manchester mayoral debate, challenger Joyce Craig accused incumbent Ted Gatsas of failing to follow protocol when a 14-year-old student was raped at a high school in 2015.
The rape was not made public until earlier this year when the county prosecutor announced that Bryan Wilson, who was 17 at the time, was found guilty and sentenced to 10- to- 20 years for aggravated felonious sexual assault at West High School.
In the debate Thursday on NHPR’s The Exchange, Gatsas said that when the news came out he called the police chief and school superintendent to talk about protocol and how the information would be released to parents.
You can listen to the debate here or watch video below.
Craig argues that there was clear protocol in place. She said it was followed during a similar incident a few years ago at Central High School.
“To me it’s absolutely wrong that nothing was said,” she said. “To have this be silenced for two years, knowing that the students in West knew - this silence breeds doubt in the minds of people, you know, if something like this were to happen to them, then they feel they couldn’t come forward because their words wouldn’t be believed.”
Gatsas accused his opponent of politicizing the crime.
“The victim and their family are trying to get on with their lives and this is the lowest form of politicization I’ve ever seen on an issue,” he said.
The hour-long debate began on an upbeat note with host Laura Knoy posing a listener’s question, which asked each of the candidates to say something nice about the other.
In responses, the candidates appreciated their mutual love for Manchester.
Gatsas and Craig then debated issues including the opioid epidemic, education, taxes, and the need to keep improving the city’s infrastructure and roads.
Gatsas noted the value of “Safe Station,” a program at the Manchester Fire Department to help direct addicts to treatment and recovery services.
Despite some progress, Craig said Manchester had a record number of drug overdoses in September. She says more funding is necessary, and advocates for preserving Medicaid expansion.
Both said the ballot question of whether the city should allow Keno games in Manchester is up to the voters.
Craig said she is personally against it because Keno, while funding public kindergarten state-wide, would not directly contribute funds to the city. Manchester already has full-day kindergarten.
The candidates expressed support for the possibility of a private company extending a commuter rail to greater Manchester, but stopped short of calling for municipal funding for such a transit option.
Throughout the debate, both showcased their differing views of their city. While Gatsas highlighted a teacher and principal who received statewide honors, Craig threw herself into the role of challenger.
“I think it is wrong to bury our head in the sand and say everything is great,” she said.
The municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Gatsas is seeking his fifth term. He and Craig, a former alderman, faced off in the election two years ago, when Gatsas eked out a 64-vote win.
Despite some bitter disagreements, Gatsas and Craig agreed on several issues. Both opposed legalization of marijuana and are against a sanctuary city designation for Manchester. Each expressed concern about inadequate federal funds for the city, particularly with respect to fighting the opioid health crisis.
Watch video of the debate on The Exchange.