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Beth LaMontagne Hall's City Hall: Gatsas worried about the budget, not his skimpy coat tails

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 19. 2011 10:16PM

Since the municipal election, talk in Manchester has gone from speculation about Mayor Ted Gatsas running for governor to speculation about what will happen when the mayor becomes governor. Gatsas has been coy about his intentions, a savvy strategy since it keeps his name in the papers. But dangling his name out for higher office also puts a target squarely on Gatsas' back as he enters what will likely be one of the toughest budget seasons the city has seen in decades.

The state Democrats were quick to take aim at that newly affixed target days after the election, pointing out that Gatsas didn't carry many of his fellow Republicans with him on to victory.

'We went back a couple of decades, and nobody could remember an incumbent mayor getting reelected and having fewer members of his own party on the Board of Aldermen,' said state Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein.

The majority of aldermen candidates Gatsas endorsed and campaigned for failed to win a seat on the board. The winners Gatsas supported were Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo, who's race was so close it went through a recount, local attorney Joe Kelly Levasseur and Democratic Aldermen Jim Roy and Bill Shea. That's about a 28 percent success rate.

Gatsas-supported candidates did better on the Board of School Committee, winning about 35 percent of the seats. Of the six open seats, Gatsas-supported candidates won two spots. Of the eight remaining seats, Gatsas-supported candidates won three.

'As a candidate, Gatsas is all coat and no tails, electing only two Republican aldermen with him out of a possible 14. Teddy's coat tails are so short, he must have been shopping in the children's section,' said Kirstein.

Why does this even matter, especially in a nonpartisan election? If he can't carry along more people down the ticket in a city election, Democrats argue, Republicans shouldn't expect Gatsas to bring people with him on a state-wide ticket.

'I guess they'd have to say something contrary to (my) 70 percent popularity,' said Gatsas, the percentage he not only won by in the Nov. 8 election, but also the percentage of people polled this summer who approved of his job performance. 'We've got a $21 million (budget) problem, and their worried about coat tails?'

It's true that having a strong candidate to top a ticket is always a bonus, but coat tails aren't a given. Even the ridiculously popular Gov. John Lynch had trouble bringing up Democrats in 2010.

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Political insiders observing the Wards 10 and 12 recounts on Wednesday thought they witnessed a major scoop when they spotted political strategist Mike Dennehy entering Gatsas' office. The mayor said it wasn't to discuss a run for governor but that Dennehy was escorting Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith, who had arranged a visit with Gatsas.

Gatsas said they discussed joining the United States Conference of Mayors, on which Smith serves as second vice president, and about coming to Washington, D.C., to meet with the organization. Gatsas said they spoke for about an hour about 'nothing of great importance' and that Smith never really gave a direct answer about what he was doing there. Regardless, Gatsas said the two had a nice visit.

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The members of the school board made nice last week during their public review of Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan, but the underlying frustration with the way the district is being run, and the way Mayor Gatsas runs the school board, is still flowing beneath the surface.

That's probably why Committeeman John Avard's name has been circulating among members as a possible challenger to Vice Chairman Dave Gelinas' leadership role.

'I've been kind of testing waters and getting a pulse from my colleagues about how they felt. I think it's time to put my name out there,' said Avard. The Ward 10 school board member said he was scheduled to speak to Gatsas on Friday about his plans.

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If you've been wondering where your city property tax bill is, Board of Assessors head Robert Gagne said last week to hold tight. It's coming.

Because the city underwent a property revaluation this year, it took longer that usual to complete the tax rate process for the state Department of Revenue. With the Board of Aldermen's approval on Tuesday of the new exemptions for the elderly and the disabled, the assessors were ready to get the data up to Concord. Gagne said the city should find out what the tax rate is by Monday.

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Politics has been known to infiltrate city boards and commissions in Manchester, but Zoning Board Chairman and former Ward 6 alderman candidate Brian Desfosses noted last week during the Paul Lessard Water Commission controversy that it's been pretty frustrating to see how much a role politics played this election cycle.

Desfosses was taken to task this fall when the Dunkin' Donuts on Hanover Street came before the Zoning Board for approval of a sign and hours of operation on Oct. 13.

Since the Dunkin' Donuts is in Ward 6 and he was running for Ward 6 alderman, Desfosses recused himself to avoid the appearance of politics affecting his decision. But because the Zoning Board is short alternates and with Desfosses and another member stepping down, the board did not have enough members to move forward with a hearing.

The hearing was moved to Nov. 10, two days after the election. Because Desfosses was no longer a candidate with a perceived political interest, he decided to participate in the hearing. No one said they thought it was an issue.

Read Beth LaMontagne Hall's coverage of Manchester City Hall in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email her at

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