Rochester Mayoral Candidate: Palana Hunt-Hawkins
This is part of a series of candidate questionnaires with local candidates released ahead of the November 2 elections.
Name: Palana Hunt-Hawkins
Address: 4 Old Dover Road
Occupation: Care Coordinator with the New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition
Education: Bachelor of Science, Management
Civic experience: Currently Rochester City Councilor and Board Member of the NH Women’s Foundation and 603 Forward. Co-founder of the Affirming Spaces Project, a new non-profit organization providing free consulting services to small businesses. Former community organizer with ACLU of New Hampshire. Former Soldati co-chair for the Executive Council campaign. Occasional consultant in political organization and communication.
Campaign website: PalanaForMayor.com
Favorite TV Show: “The Monkees.”
What would your three priorities be if you were elected?
My top priorities are sustainable downtown revitalization, investing in forward-thinking public safety and developing the Rochester brand for the 21st century. I am a storyteller, and I believe that periods of growth like the one Rochester is currently experiencing are an opportunity for cities to rewrite their history, to reflect where we come from and to elevate the values ââthat unite us. We’ve been on the right track for several years with steps like moving to internal public relations and attracting a positive redevelopment, but there is more we can do.
One of the most immediate goals I have in regards to our downtown area is to create and implement a plan to deal with the downtown parking problem. This plan should include a committee of employees and community stakeholders to identify ways to better encourage the use of underutilized parking spaces. Rochester is also expected to start exploring what a possible downtown parking structure might look like and how much capital would be required to eventually pursue such a project.
What is the city doing well and where can we improve?
Rochester has been formidable for proactive infrastructure investments like the new public works facility, the ambitious Strafford Square roundabout and efforts to extend public sewers – all vital infrastructure projects that improve health and safety of all residents of Rochester. We must continue this forward-thinking infrastructure trend by investing in renewable energies for urban buildings. This is not only the right thing to do, but it would also significantly reduce the city’s energy costs over time.
Rochester has also been a great partner for those looking to host events in our city. The very first Lila Dance Festival was held on Rochester Common in August. The group organizing the event said the city is very supportive and keen to make the event a reality. It is support that they have not been able to find in other communities. Rochester is leading the way regionally in supporting arts and culture. These events bring underutilized public spaces to life and support local restaurants with increased traffic.
One area where our city could be better collaborators is our response to the growing homeless population in the region and the opioid epidemic. Tri-City mayors committed to a master plan for homelessness in 2017 and largely took no action on recommendations to address issues identified as the root causes of housing insecurity. In fact, during this time, we have entered a losing battle with SOS Recovery. As mayor, I would seek dedicated funds for such services as a cold weather warming shelter, rather than going through credits year after year.
Can Rochester do more to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city?
As we argue over who is affordable housing, there are people who are in desperate need of affordable housing in our city. Our city and our businesses are better off when everyone has access to stable housing. A direct way to encourage the development of affordable housing is to require a certain percentage of affordable housing units when offering revitalization tax incentives to developers. These are not new or radical ideas, they are being tested with great success across our state and now is Rochester’s time to look to the future. If we want people to work, live and play in our downtown area, there has to be room for working families.
What do you think of Rochester’s efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion? What else needs to be done?
There is not a great diversity in the positions of power here in Rochester. While our city is still around 95% white, it shouldn’t downplay the identity or experience of one in 20 people who are not. People generally like to see people like them in leadership positions. Any effort to attract diversity of all kinds among leaders will be good for the future of our city.
One proactive idea that I would like to explore is Rochester’s relationship with Indigenous communities. There has been a very prolonged public discussion about the use of the Red Raiders name and logo. Public support for the name and logo undoubtedly remains strong, but it has been suggested that there may be other steps to be taken, including public education efforts and land recognition. Last year I was proud to listen to the voices of students and community members, but I also recognize that changes like these require real and often difficult community conversations. As mayor, I hope to give people from all walks of life – and graduating classes – the opportunity to have their opinions heard and also to hear from neighbors who may not have the same visibility.