QUICK: NAME the person Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas defeated in his re-election campaign two years ago. How about the candidate Gatsas beat to win the office originally, in 2009?
Patrick Arnold is determined that his mayoral campaign won’t become the answer to a future trivia question. Arnold is a two-term alderman from Ward 12 on the West Side, an attorney by trade and a new dad. He turns 30 this month and, earnest demeanor notwithstanding, he looks so young he must get carded if ordering a drink.
Arnold grew up in suburban Baltimore, attended parochial schools and contracted the political bug. He worked at the Baltimore County elections board for several years to pay his way through the University of Maryland Baltimore County. There he wrote his thesis on the political differences between Vermont and New Hampshire after doing some field research of sorts by coming to New Hampshire to campaign for liberal Vermonter Howard Dean before the 2004 presidential primary.
Used to Maryland’s machine-driven political system, Arnold observed that politics in New Hampshire is accessible to anyone with some talent and a willingness to work hard. He applied to Franklin Pierce Law Center and moved to Manchester in 2006.
Two years later – just meeting the residency requirement – Arnold ran for state rep as a Democrat in a politically competitive, eight-seat district. Arnold finished a respectable ninth out of 18 candidates, one spot short of getting elected.
The following year, 2009, Arnold graduated from Franklin Pierce and ran for alderman. His opponent for the open seat was Keith Hirschmann, a formidable political veteran with previous service as alderman and state legislator. Arnold won comfortably with 57 percent of the vote. Elected concurrently to fill a vacancy, Arnold was sworn in the next day, hours after being sworn into the New Hampshire Bar.
Along the way Arnold worked part time for the Campaign for Ratepayers Rights, which advocates for liberal energy and environmental policies and is led by Democratic activist Bob Backus. Arnold clerked at Backus’s Manchester law firm and now works there as a litigator, a relationship which accelerated the expansion of Arnold’s network among city Democrats.
It wasn’t long before Alderman Arnold butted heads with Mayor Gatsas over the development of Hackett Hill and other issues. Arnold annoyed Gatsas enough that in 2011, Gatsas actively campaigned for Arnold’s opponent, Mark Nadzan. Gatsas won Ward 12 by a three to one margin, his best ward in the city, but Arnold hung on to win re-election by 12 votes in a recount. That win gives Arnold some confidence from having beaten Gatsas before.
Arnold’s basic message is that Manchester can do better than it has under Gatsas. Past mayors could proudly point to construction of the Verizon Center and Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Gatsas’s biggest economic development project is the new downtown Market Basket. Two-hundred classrooms have more students than state maximums, according to Arnold.
Arnold notes that centralization of power has characterized Gatsas’s administration, citing the mayor’s attempt to take over the city’s economic development office. “That makes it even more political. I don’t think you should have to have friends in the mayor’s office in order to open or expand a business,” Arnold says.
Gatsas’s “my way or the highway” leadership style will be an issue in the campaign. “His style bleeds into everything. If you’re not for his idea, you’re a public enemy. He belittles people and poisons relationships. Vitriol and personal attacks are a matter of form” for the incumbent, Arnold says.
Arnold’s critics say he’s too friendly with the city’s public employee unions, which supported him in his past campaigns and this one. Arnold points to his recent vote against putting the city’s tax cap back on the ballot as an example of him voting against the union position. Arnold offers a pragmatic straddle on the tax cap itself, saying the city’s voters have backed it twice and the mayor and aldermen have to work within its confines.
Gatsas was elected with 57 percent of the vote in 2009, defeating Mark Roy, and re-elected with just under 70 percent in 2011 over Chris Herbert. “No one is unbeatable,” Arnold says, shrugging dismissively.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @FergusCullen.