Kate Cook

Candidate Bio


I was committed to civic volunteerism at a very young age. My post-secondary education focused on conflict resolution and management (bachelor’s), secondary education (master’s), and public and international affairs (master’s). In my early career I taught public school, worked as the Director of a nonprofit serving unhoused children, and as a legal researcher and grant writer. After my second master’s degree, I was hired as a U.S. Political Affairs Adviser serving in the United Nations Security Council, where I gained direct experience in international negotiation, policy analysis of complex international challenges, and peacekeeping and governance best practices.

After the birth of my daughter, I taught Political Science and coached Model United Nations at Washburn University, then worked as a private educational and nonprofit consultant, while serving on numerous non-profit Boards of Directors. I bring my ability to research and understand complex issues, and my experience translating those challenges into manageable work, to the job as a City Councilor. I have overseen complex budgets, so as a City Councilor I spent considerable time asking hard questions about the budget process and the need for various capital projects. I will continue to bring a critical viewpoint to my ongoing work.

Finally, I am a parent. As a mom to a teenager, I am particularly concerned about the issues facing parents in our current workforce climate, from finding childcare to balancing the difficulties of our modern societal expectations to make sure a child receives the support they need. I bring this understanding of the unique issues families face to every decision I make as a City Councilor, and I will continue to examine policy choices through this lens.
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Why I'm Running

My sense of civic duty and commitment to public service from my early childhood has not waned. I enjoy solving complex policy problems, and I love working to represent the people of Portsmouth. As a City Councilor, I feel I have accomplished many goals in my first term, but there is still much to be done. I would like to continue my work to bring more affordable housing to Portsmouth, improve planning for Climate Change, and foster strength in the Arts and Cultural Community. Portsmouth is facing a housing crisis. This crisis exacerbates our workforce staffing challenges, specifically in retail, hospitality, non-profits, childcare, education, and public safety.

The upcoming Master Planning process provides an opportunity for the City to re-evaluate our zoning to take a housing-first approach to planning for the next 10-15 years. I believe I bring a progressive voice to these discussions, supporting changes in parking requirements, expanding alternative housing options like tiny houses and micro-units, and supporting expansion of gateway zones. I will work to alter policies and ordinances that stand in the way of building affordable housing, while being mindful of the historic character of our city. I also bring experience lobbying in Concord to the job as a City Councilor. I will continue to lobby for better housing laws, more funding for affordable housing, and regulations that allow us to limit rentals by absentee corporate owners. Ultimately, this is a discussion about accessibility, and who will have access to our wonderful community. I believe we must continue to be a warm, welcoming, and inclusive community, and we can only do that by confronting this ongoing crisis.

Additionally, the City of Portsmouth must address the impact of climate change on our infrastructure, and the lives of our residents. During my first term, I focused on supporting the Climate Action Planning process as a member of the Sustainability Committee, and bringing locally controlled, renewable power options to the City through Portsmouth Community Power as a member of the Energy Advisory Commi8ee. During my second term, I would like to address sea level rise adaptation measures and bringing climate-related infrastructure improvements forward in the Capital Improvement Plan process. Moreover, we should focus on transitioning the City to an electric vehicle fleet and green building improvements.

I also plan to continue my support for the arts through implementation of the new Cultural Plan, promotion of public art projects, and support for the newly established Arts and Cultural Commission and Public Art Review Committees. After working to bring changes to our Ethics process, committee structure, and Council rules, I would like the opportunity to continue my work as the Governance Chair to proceed with our review of city ordinances, policies, rules, and procedures to further improve the workflow and transparency of our local government. I will work to make sure the City of Portsmouth supports our entire community.

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Position On Issues

A comprehensive housing market study for the Portsmouth Housing Authority identified unmet demand for more than 3,000 additional housing units in our city, mostly for rental units. The study also pointed out that almost 50% of Portsmouth residents live in rented homes. Renters effectively pay a share of the owner’s property taxes. But while property owners, especially those in desirable parts of the city, have benefitted from astonishing rises in their home equity, renters — through no fault of their own — have not shared in the wealth creation. Just the opposite: as rents and the cost of living rise steadily, renters are more cost-burdened every year. You aspire to represent this huge constituency. 
Question #1: How should the city address the specific needs of renters?

While the Council does not have the power to enact rent control in Portsmouth, we can take some critical measures to increase the supply of housing, and thereby decrease the demand which is driving up rental prices. First, the City can partner with a public housing authority to build workforce housing, and we should be doing that now. We have identified four potential locations for workforce housing and we should actively pursue efforts to develop them.

Second, we should make zoning changes that increase the types of housing available in the City. I would support changes in zoning to allow for cooperative co-housing, boarding homes, micro units, tiny homes, and live/work spaces. Then I would support establishing zoning incentives for commercial office space conversions to housing. There are federal funds becoming available to support these conversions, so this option may become more attractive to builders in the near future. Additionally, one of the biggest impediments to developing new housing is outdated parking requirements that limit the location of housing developments. I would eliminate parking requirements in our zoning, instead taking a market-driven approach to parking. In order to offset impacts to residents, I would establish a neighborhood parking program for all residents living near busy commercial zones. Finally, I would expand our gateway zones to allow development of more rental housing in underutilized industrial and commercial zones. All of these zoning changes should increase rental options within the City, therefore increasing supply. 

Third, The Council should continue to lobby in Concord in favor of up-zoning, and meaningful rent control. If the state requires up-zoning, it is more likely that people will subdivide their single-family homes into multiple units, often available for rent. This would also increase the supply of housing overall, thereby decreasing demand and prices. Rent control would also help stabilize the market limiting rental rate increases. 

Finally, the Council should work to expand first-time home ownership programs, local transportation options, and regional solutions to help address this challenge. For renters seeking home ownership who have not been able to save for a down payment due to high rental costs, we should better advertise our First Time Homebuyer Program (Hometown) which helps residents who qualify to purchase their first homes. Expanding public transportation options will help to make regional housing options more viable for workers commuting into Portsmouth and around the city. Better public transit reduces the need for cars and costs for parking and fuel, making rental options outside the city center more viable for our workers. Additionally, the City Council should work with our regional partners and businesses to host a housing summit to discuss regional efforts, business options, and creative solutions to our affordable housing challenges. We need to work together regionally if we are going to address this critical issue.

The next generations will either benefit or suffer from the policies we enact today regarding climate change, sustainability, and the move from fossil fuels to clean energy. 
Question #2: Do you accept that urgent measures are required and, if so, how aggressive should the city be in addressing the crisis?

We are already starting very late in addressing the impacts of climate change on Portsmouth. Not only do we need to address this issue urgently, but we also need to act quickly to adequately address the impacts on our City’s infrastructure and residents over the next few years. The Sustainability Committee is currently working to complete a Climate Action Plan by December that will help drive changes in the City’s approach to climate change, and provide a guide for actions the City needs to take to address this issue. However, the committee is not waiting to complete this plan to start work, because planning for the long-term impacts of climate change must begin immediately if we are to adapt to the changes we will face.

Some of the critical work that is occurring outside that planning process is analysis of transportation opportunities, efforts to reduce plastic use and pollution, creation of a green building policy for the City in including new green building codes, working to change zoning codes through the Sol Smart program, adapting our zoning code for EV chargers and large solar arrays, and working towards a plan for adaptation measures for homeowners impacted by sea level rise. I have been fortunate to serve on the Sustainability Committee with the people doing this critical work. The committee also partners with Portsmouth Climate Action to share information with the public, and I would encourage all residents to participate in their program, Bright Action, to help find ways to mitigate their household climate impacts.

Ultimately, we need to implement the recommendations in the Climate Action Plan in the 2025 budget, which includes altering the Capital Budget (CIP) plan in early 2024 to insert recommendations from the Climate Action Plan. We also need to prioritize capital budget projects that focus on alternative transportation options like bike paths and pedestrian walkways, green building improvements, solar power, and sea-level rise adaptation. The City must also shift priorities for spending federal dollars for those who are most impacted by climate change, including the elderly and individuals with lower incomes. They will be the first to feel the effects of heat waves, and the least able to adapt to these changes without governmental support.

Also, the Energy Advisory Committee on which I serve is actively working to analyze options for implementing large City-owned solar projects within the community, and discussing ways to get residents to opt-up to greener power through the Portsmouth Community Power program. If more residents opt-up, that will significantly reduce the impact Portsmouth has on climate change. Overall, we must incentivize behaviors that mitigate climate impacts, while adapting to the changes that will significantly impact our city. This work cannot wait. Climate change is here, and the longer we wait to address mitigation and adaptation measures, the more we will feel the impacts of this worldwide crisis.

Records show that the top complaint from Portsmouth neighborhoods for decades has been drivers speeding on their streets. The city has begun implementing traffic calming measures. Changes to infrastructure are the single most effective way to address the issue. Drivers often object at first, but the measures have proven effective. At the same time, the city is doing more to accommodate residents who would rather walk or bike. 
Question #3: What kinds of initiatives would you support that further calm traffic and make more of Portsmouth safer for residents on foot or bike?

Most of the City streets in Portsmouth are designed for the smooth flow of car traffic, not pedestrians or cyclists. As a result, the City is regularly trying to address excessive speeds on arterial roadways and sometimes even on side streets in residential neighborhoods. One of my priorities as a City Councilor has been to push for better implementation of the City’s Bike/Ped. Plan in the capital budget. If we are ever to adapt to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, we need to implement the plans we develop that improve access for individuals traveling in the city without a car. If re-elected, I would continue to support full Bike/Ped. Plan implementation and work to make sure all neighborhoods in the City have sidewalks so that pedestrians are a priority. This allows children and families to more safely navigate their neighborhoods and routes to school, and it also improves access to neighborhood parks. 

Currently there is an effort to re-visit the Bike/Ped. Plan to update it in advance of the Master Planning process. I would support a review of the plan, because we should adapt it to include better arterial cycling infrastructure, most notably protected bike lanes on main arterial roadways. Protected bike lanes serve two purposes: 1) they reduce the width of the roadway, reducing traffic speeds, and 2) they provide a curbed, protected bike lane for cyclists to reduce bike/vehicle collisions. Where it is not feasible to create a protected bike lane, we can employ traffic calming measures to make it safer for everyone to share the road, most notably narrowing roadways to decrease speed. Other measures we should consider are increased use of speed islands and traffic medians, and refuge islands. All of these traffic calming measures not only reduce speeds, but they also provide safe spaces for pedestrians crossing streets. Increased tree planting and vegetation along busy roadways can also help curb traffic speeds while also improving the aesthetics of a neighborhood and providing shade to reduce ground temperatures in summer heat. In high traffic areas, we must consider more curb extensions and bulb outs to protect pedestrians on sidewalks and further slow traffic.

We should also provide better bike infrastructure in busy commercial zones such as better bike parking areas and bike lockers. Automobile parking should be prioritized for those with mobility challenges. If bikes are given parking priority over cars for parking in busy commercial areas, residents will be more likely to access those areas on a bicycle. 

Finally, we need to expand public transportation options within the City. Working with business leaders, COAST, and regional partners, we can find better ways to fund public transportation since the state has lagged in funding of public transportation. We also need to consider a public transportation loop around the city to provide an alternative to using cars within the City. There are federal infrastructure funds available now for public transportation investments. The City should be working with business partners to find a way to fund this type of transit to reduce dependency on cars in Portsmouth, and therefore reduce congestion on roadways