CONCORD, N.H. – Concord’s long serving mayor Jim Bouley will not seek reelection this fall, after 16 years in the office, giving way for a potentially competitive race to take shape ahead of the Nov. 7 municipal election.
During the City Council meeting on Monday, after offering a reminder about upcoming elections and related filing fees, Bouley mentioned that for the past 13 years, he has been the first person in line to sign up.
“So my question for you all is, and to the community, is who is going to be the first person to sign up this year?” he asked. “Because I’ve been talking this over with my family, and I have made the decision that I will not be running for reelection this upcoming November.”
Bouley, 57, has long been a fixture in local politics, serving as a city councilor for 10 years before he took over as mayor of New Hampshire’s third largest city and capital in 2008.
“Serving the people, and the city I love dearly, as the 56th mayor, it has been a joy and a privilege I can’t even describe,” he said. “There have been so many moments where I have witnessed firsthand the city’s resilience, where I have seen people rise above adversity, where I have accomplished -- we have accomplished great things, and where I’ve seen great kindness in our community.”
He called it the “honor of a lifetime” to serve as mayor.
“My love for Concord, its citizens, and this institution has never wavered, and it never will,” he said, fighting back tears.
“People were somewhat surprised,” said Rob Werner, a former city council member who served alongside Bouley for 14 years. “It wasn’t telegraphed very well that the mayor wasn’t going to run again.”
He called Bouley the most consequential mayor Concord has had in many decades and praised his efforts to revitalize Concord’s downtown area. Bouley has also called the downtown revitalization one of the highlights of his tenure.
Brent Todd, a current city councilor, credited Bouley for coming up with the idea to revitalize Concord’s main street during a 2008 meeting, when the council was planning for the effects of widening Concord’s portion of the I-93 highway.
Todd said Bouley supported the idea and encouraged the councilors to think big: widening the sidewalks, making the area more accessible, improving safety, and focusing on economic development.
“That’s exactly what happened,” Todd said. “We really have Mayor Bouley to thank.”
“Twenty years ago, Concord was a city in a coma,” said city council member Erle Pierce, who called Bouley a “consensus builder.”
“I’m going to miss him, and I think the city’s going to miss him,” said Pierce.
City Council member Byron Champlin praised Bouley’s leadership and told the Globe that he’s exploring running to replace him as mayor.
Bouley had a broad base of support, winning the 2021 election with more than 78 percent of the vote. Should he run, Champlin’s said he is hoping to secure some of that support to work toward his goals of economic development and housing initiatives. Champlin said he expects to make a decision about whether to run within the next week.
The departure of the popular incumbent is likely to draw other contestants to the race.
“I anticipate it would be a competitive race particularly since Jim Bouley won so easily over the last number of elections,” Werner said. “Now that it’s an open seat I think they’ll be some interest from a variety of people.”
Interested candidates can file their official intent to run with the city from Sept. 8 through Sept. 18.
Not everyone is sad to see Bouley go.
City Councilor Stacey Brown said she’s encouraging people who have been frustrated with Bouley’s leadership to run for mayor.
“I think people haven’t felt listened to,” she said, pointing to efforts to get the city to install lights at Keach Park in a neighborhood that’s home to many refugees and New Americans.
While the city is now working to install lights, Brown said requests were long brushed off. Plus, she said, community members want the mayor to be more vocal and speak out against recent incidents in the city involving extremist groups.
“Marginalized community members are feeling more threatened and would like the city to step out and speak up against those more forcefully,” she said.
Bouley did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Fisto Ndayishimiye is a New American who has been working with Change for Concord, a community organization. He’s hoping to see more diverse city leadership.
“We have city councilors who are just one specific group of people who usually talk about themselves most of the time,” he said. But most immigrants, refugees, and low income people in the city don’t have representation, he said.
“I have a lot of respect for Mayor Bouley,” he said, although he added that the mayor has been uncomfortable and unfamiliar when it came to working on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice initiatives.
“A good dancer always knows the perfect time to leave the stage, and I think he did so,” Ndayishimiye said.