Incumbent Joe Kenney Squares off Against Somersworth Mayor for Executive Council Seat


Joseph Kenney, left, and Dana Hilliard, right

Aidan Bearor, Contributing Writer

Republican Councilor Joseph Kenney has represented New Hampshire’s first District in the state’s Executive Council for merely one year. After serving in the role for several terms prior to the 2019 election, he was unseated, only to return in 2021. Having been in his position for seven years, return to office after the 2022 election seemed sealed.

Since Kenney was last elected however, the New Hampshire districts have been redrawn. His district now includes the city of Somersworth, which inadvertently brought fierce competition to his seat. In light of this redistricting, now running against him this election season is the Mayor of Somersworth, Democrat Dana Hilliard. Unsatisfied with his representation shifting from Councilor Cindy Warmington to Joseph Kenney, Hilliard took it upon himself to run for the office. After receiving the Democratic nomination with a unanimous vote, Hilliard will challenge Kenney on Nov. 8.

Background on the Candidates

Now in his fifth term as mayor of Somersworth, Hilliard made history when he was elected as the first openly gay mayor to serve in New Hampshire. Prior to his mayoral office, the former principal and 23 year educator also served in the New Hampshire Congress for five terms and also was a city councilman. Hilliard believes firmly that his local, community-based politics will translate well to the Executive Council. 

“Local government is where rubber meets the road,” saidHilliard. He also emphasized that in municipal government “everything hits your desk.”

Though the mayor and councilman embodied the nonpartisan nature of town governments in his duties, the politics of Joe Kenney as an Executive Councilor were inexcusable to him. 

“This democracy is ours,” stated Hilliard. “I could never sit on the sidelines.” 

Despite his running to remove Kenney from office, Hilliard sees bipartisan cooperation as paramount. He prides himself greatly on his abilities to reach across the aisle to find solutions to complex municipal issues.

“We need to find common ground so we can all succeed,” he said. 

Councilor Kenney is a retired Marine and University of New Hampshire (UNH) alum. Having served in three war zones, Kenney also prides himself on serving as a political “broker” for the Executive Council.  In his freetime, Kenney drives for Uber in the Durham area and views it as an opportunity to interface with different people. 

With a resumé of accomplishments that he has taken part of while on the Council, he still prides himself on recently spending over 70 hours confirming judges and “putting the right people on the bench.” Kenney modestly admitted after attending the funeral of a public servant in Pittsburg, New Hampshire that “sometimes half of my job is just showing up.” A seasoned veteran of politics and as a soldier, Kenney stated that he has lived “a life based around public service.”

After School Sex Education

A recent voting of the Executive Council to table a proposal for after school sexual education drew scrutiny from the public and from within the council itself. Kenney was an instrumental voice in this vote, which is now a key element of Hilliard’s campaign against the councilor. 

When asked about the contract, which covered middle and high school curriculums, Kenney refuted that it had been struck down at all. 

“The high school curriculum was pretty graphic,” he said with an exasperated expression. “It is standard procedure that when the Council requests more information, we table the matter until we get that info.” He added in regard to the controversy that there is “always somebody pushing issues like that.”

Planned Parenthood

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade bringing reproductive rights to the forefront of American politics, Mayor Hilliard again noted the voting history of his opponent. 

“Joe Kenney has voted against Planned Parenthood four times now,” he said. He also claimed that STD screening had also been “cut down” by his opposition. When questioned on the matter of Roe V. Wade, Kenney stated that “late term abortion needs to be eliminated.” 


As a 23-year educator, Mayor Hilliard considers the funding of the state’s educational system to be a huge priority. His top concern lies with the State’s Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who is supported by Councilor Kenney. In speaking of the commissioner, Hilliard voiced disapproval in several regards.

“None of his kids attended a public school while he has consistently diverted money away from schools and into private business,” he said.

Hilliard also mentioned the education commissioner’s “public attacks on the LGBT+ community.”

Across the aisle, Kenney emphasized the importance of middle education. Kenney stated that early childhood is “critical in developing minds of young kids.” He intends to place an emphasis on special education and the “need for quality educators.”

Primary Concerns

With two divergent agendas and priorities, the two candidates made clear the issues they saw to be at the forefront of district exigence. Joe Kenney stated a primary concern to be broadband internet availability. 

“Broadband maps in the future will show business hubs,” stated the councilor. With a lack of availability in Coos county specifically, the councilor is working to rectify this issue. His other priorities are revamping dilapidated fish hatcheries and bolstering sewage infrastructure. Alongside these issues, Kenney also sees childcare and housing as issues that epitomize his platform.

Hilliard on the other hand sees no issue as paramount as communication. He referenced a conversation he had with a staunch republican in Berlin, noting their discussion was beneficial despite their fundamental disagreements. 

“All adults are a part of this republic and their voices deserve to be heard,” stated the mayor.

For students looking for more information on how to vote in the upcoming election on Nov. 8, 603 Forward offers information on their website. Students can also access more information on how to vote by checking out the University of New Hampshire Voting page.

Photos are courtesy of the candidates