Mark Hayward's City Matters: Anarchy in Ward 5? Well, not exactly
For Democrats, of course, the party is rocking. In fact, the party's party has been going strong for a week now.
But as the haze starts to clear, some unexpected guests are starting to appear in the fog.
Consider Tim O'Flaherty, a Manchester resident of 11 months who was elected a state rep in the inner city Ward 5. O'Flaherty, a Free Stater who describes himself as an anarchist, has raised alarm bells.
"We believe the Free State Project is extreme, and Tim O'Flaherty is one of the most extreme examples of the movement we've seen," said Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of Granite State Progress, an organization backed by labor, voting rights and abortion-rights groups.
She points to blogs where O'Flaherty said he doesn't support Social Security, Medicare, the armed forces or public roads. He has blogged that he's an anarchist, and that there should not even be a state.
But during an interview Wednesday, the harried thoughts of a midnight blogger took a backseat to the practical politics of a man with a title - state representative-elect.
Flaherty said he wouldn't vote to defund public education because there is no vibrant private system to replace it. He realizes a welfare system is in place, so he would help a constituent navigate the system to get food stamps or unemployment benefits. And he would oppose anti-union Right to Work legislation as written.
"I'm an idealist, but I have a practical side," O'Flaherty said over coffee. "Implementing my ideals overnight is not going to happen."
He won't run away from the anarchist label, which he described as self-governance.
"Anarchy means no rulers; it doesn't mean no law," he said.
O'Flaherty stands 6 feet 3 inches tall, and although he says he is 33, he has the body of a teenage boy who knows no fat. He speaks softly and deliberately, a contrast to a photo on his campaign literature, which features a smirk. That smirk turns out to be a pretty good symbol of his campaign.
O'Flaherty said he was surprised to win the Democratic primary over Richard Komi, a former state rep who was voted out of office in 2010. O'Flaherty won the contest by one vote. He said Komi may have suffered from name problems; his name is similar to Joseph Kony, the Ugandan guerilla leader whose capture was encouraged by the Kony 2012 effort, a viral Internet video.
In the general election, O'Flaherty ran against a fellow Free Stater, housemate Dan Garthwaite, whom O'Flaherty called a statist who favors more government than O'Flaherty.
O'Flaherty's campaign literature calls for reduced spending, individual responsibility and protection of constitutional liberties. The backside encourages people to donate to Shire Sharing, an effort to raise money for the needy. Nowhere is Free State or anarchy mentioned; O'Flaherty said one doesn't get elected campaigning as an anarchist.
In one of the more bizarre moments in the campaign, O'Flaherty wrote to Comedy Central's election Internet site to say he and Garthwaite are lovers, and the election would decide certain role-playing aspects of their relationship. (We're talking dominance and jackboots here.)
But O'Flaherty, who is gay, said he doesn't know Garthwaite well, and he made the comments to undermine his opponent with his Republican base.
Granite State Progress dropped fliers in Ward 5 on election day to alert voters to O'Flaherty's beliefs, but he easily won, coming in second in the race for two seats.
"I feel it strange they should want to demonize Free Staters so much," he said about Granite State Progress. "We have a lot of common ground with the political left."
He said he had to choose a major political party in order to get elected, and he agreed with the Democrats' principles of tolerance and inclusion.
Ed Osborne, the longtime alderman in Ward 5, said a Free Stater ran against him last year. Like O'Flaherty, Mike Segal didn't mention his Free State allegiance, Osborne said. He said many people in his ward, especially Democrats, vote party line.
"I don't think 75 percent (of voters) know what the Free State Project is. Free Stater, free skater - I don't pay much attention to it either," Osborne said.
O'Flaherty said he grew up poor, the only child of a single mom who works in a florist shop in Reading, Pa. He worked in the hotel industry before moving to New Hampshire in 2009 as part of the Free State movement. He said his anti-war leanings drew him to the Free State movement.
Since moving to Manchester, he's been mugged, but he did not report the crime to police. ("What's the best outcome? A prison cell? It's torture; it would not restore justice at all.")
He also spent a weekend in jail; he said he did not realize his driver's license expired. ("It's pretty ridiculous to be arrested for not having your paperwork in order.")
Friends helped him out, and he's now settled at Porc Central, a Central Street rooming house with six Free State residents. (Porc refers to porcupine, the symbol of Free Staters.) He now works as a carpenter for Joel Winters, another Free State Democrat, who was a state rep for two terms and was elected last week. On his way to work, he had a copy of "The Righteous Mind," a book by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that diagnoses the divisions of the American political system and gives recommendations for mutual understanding.
So what will happen to O'Flaherty over these next two years?
Kathy Sullivan, a New Hampshire Democratic leader and Democratic National Committee member, has criticized Republicans in the past for their embrace of Free Staters. But Donald Manning, chairman of Manchester City Democrats, said he's met O'Flaherty and that his critics should sit down and talk to him.
Although O'Flaherty has a libertarian streak, Manning said he does not think he wants to tear down state government.
"I think he's right in step with the people of Ward 5," Manning said. "I have no reason to suspect otherwise."
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Mark Hayward's City Matters runs Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org...