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September 14. 2013 11:22PM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: Arnold playing campaign funding close to the vest


 

TUESDAY is the primary election. Let's hope that city residents turn out in greater numbers than they have in recent primaries.
In 2011, fewer than 5,000 residents cast ballots. Turnout might be boosted this time around, however, because there's a primary for the mayor's race, thanks to the earnest and quixotic candidacy of local activist Glenn R.J. Ouellette. And there's also a bit of intrigue heading into the primary. Just how much money has Alderman Patrick Arnold raised and spent in his bid to unseat Mayor Ted Gatsas?

You may recall that in late July, Gatsas announced he had raised $150,000 in just a few months. Gatsas released his disclosure report well before he was required to do so, and it coincided with the circulation of an Arnold campaign email indicating it had a goal of hitting $7,500 for July, normally a prime month to boost those campaign coffers.

The disparity raised the question of whether Arnold had any chance of mounting a viable campaign against Gatsas.

At the time, Arnold insisted his campaign was doing fine in the fundraising department, and he said his political action committee would release its disclosure report before the primary, as required under the charter.

With the primary only two days away, we still don't know how much Arnold's campaign has raised or how it spent its money.

As it turns out, Arnold, a lawyer by trade, is taking a legalistic approach to the disclosure requirement. While it's described on the city's website as the "10-days-before-primary" report, the City Charter states that the form has to be filed within 10 days immediately preceding the primary.

Arnold said he intended to submit his report by the close of business Monday.

Gatsas, meanwhile, had submitted his latest report right at the 10-day mark before the primary.

"I go above and beyond what campaigns are supposed to do," Gatsas said. "I would think all candidates would follow the same pattern."

It's true that Gatsas is transparent when it comes to campaign finances, and it's also true that raising money is a strong suit of his.

His latest report shows he raised an additional $49,525 since July 1, bringing the total amount raised so far to more than $200,000. If the pace keeps up, he'll exceed his sizable haul in the 2011 election.

In the same period, Gatsas spent about $35,000, with the largest expenditures going to the Derryfield Country Club for a campaign event ($6,700) and to Liberty Strategies, his campaign consultant.

Large checks came from auto dealers, real estate and construction companies and Wiggins Airways, which donated $2,500. The individuals who wrote the largest checks - $5,000 each - were Thomas Bullock, president of Amoskeag Beverages, and Fred Tausch, who has been a generous donor to Gatsas' campaigns in the past.

He's also the co-chair of the Gatsas campaign's finance committee.

Another large donor was Constantine Scrivanos ($2,500), a longtime supporter of the mayor whose family owns several Dunkin' Donuts franchises.

Scrivanos has been seeking to buy a sliver of city-owned land at the southern corner of Livingston Park, which is used for parking and a drive-through by the Dunkin' Donuts there.

One of the more notable contributions came from VMD Companies of North Andover, Mass. VMD, which cut a check for $1,000, is the company that wants to build a student housing tower on the site of the Pearl Street parking lot. Hopefully, the president of the company knows that the mayor, as he has said, does not let money sway his political judgment.

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Did you know that the school board now has its own code of conduct? One might call it the be-nice policy; or it might be termed the "Beaudry Bill."

At the end of a long, eventful session last Monday, the board voted unanimously for a motion proposed by Ward 4's Roy Shoults. "In order to promote proper and effective human relations," Shoults proposes that every school board member "always display due respect at all times, and in all communications, whether verbal, written or visual, to the Manchester School District's superintendent and administrative assistants, as well as to all school personnel and volunteers."

Of course, Shoults didn't name names, but it was clear that Ward 9's Art Beaudry was an inspiration for the measure. No one on the board more persistently questions the school administration than Beaudry - and he hasn't extended much of a grace period to new Superintendent Debra Livingston in her first few appearances before the board.

Shoults had first floated the idea at the board's previous meeting. At the time, Beaudry said, "I believe this is a public forum. Nobody is going to gag any board member." In any case, Shoults' motion couldn't be voted on because it was a special meeting.

On Monday, Beaudry again had a skeptical reaction to the motion, which Shoults had printed and passed out to the board. "What does it mean?" Beaudry asked. "What's he trying to accomplish?"

Mayor Gatsas replied, "I think what he's trying to say is we all show respect to each other in the chamber and outside the chamber."

And this time, there wasn't much time for debate; Gatsas called for a vote, and the motion was passed with nary a word of opposition, although Beaudry could not be heard saying "aye."

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As is well-known, Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo is a fiscal conservative, and he also runs a road paving business. So when he encountered crews repaving a stretch of Interstate 293 by the Mall of New Hampshire, he questioned the expense of the project. "Those ramps were in perfect condition," he said.

He inquired with the state Department of Transportation how much it was spending to repave the entrance ramps and the stretch of highway to the Interstate 93 interchange: $1.7 million.

"There was maybe a little pothole on the westbound ramp," Greazzo said. "So we're spending $1.7 million to fix a pothole. It's a ridiculous process."

Greazzo said it's all the more upsetting since the city is bonding $1.5 million to do road repairs, and several state routes that run through the city are in dire need of repair, such as Route 28, also known as Mammoth Road, on the east side and Route 3 on the West Side, aka Second Street.

Greazzo said he's going to press for greater input from the city when state transportation officials draw up their priority list for paving projects. "It's something that should be coordinated with the city to get as much bang for the buck as we can," he said.

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You may have noticed that old-school coin-operated parking meters have recently popped up downtown. They're the "spare change" meters the aldermen voted a couple of months ago to have installed. At the time, some aldermen expressed concerns that people might confuse them for real parking meters rather than donation stations to help the needy. There's no risk of that. Local artists teamed up to paint the meters; each has its own colorful theme.

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, the brainchild of the concept, said the four meters together have been collecting an average of $100 a week.

The money goes to the New Horizons soup kitchen and shelter.

Depending on your perspective, the meters have a secondary or primary purpose: to deter panhandling. In this regard, it's perhaps not surprising that the most productive meters are located in the spots most popular with panhandlers, outside City Hall and near Margarita's restaurant.

Ted Siefer may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.


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