Ted Siefer's City Hall: Primary over, Manchester races getting interesting
This was the week that a young alderman went from "Patrick who?" to Patrick Arnold, the guy who may give Mayor Ted Gatsas a run for his money. Arnold, a Democrat, surpassed expectations and won 40 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary to Gatsas' 55 percent, according to the official results released Wednesday. The remainder went to Glenn R.J. Oullette, who got 3.3 percent, and write-ins and blank ballots.
According to the official count, nearly 12 percent of the city's 61,133 voters cast ballots - a low turnout to be sure, but an improvement over the last primary, in 2011, which hit a record low of 9 percent. The more interesting takeaway from the official results may be that there are nearly 9,000 more registered voters in the city than there were in 2011, a surge attributed to new registrations during the 2012 presidential election.
Mayor Gatsas, a Republican, is known for running for the office, not against the candidate, but there had been indications leading up to the primary that his campaign recognized the threat Arnold posed. And while Gatsas stayed above the fray, the more tech-savvy members of his campaign mixed it up in the trenches of social media on YouTube, Facebook and, most intensely, Twitter.
A couple of days before the primary, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee revealed that WMUR had ordered Arnold's campaign to remove from YouTube a video slamming Gatsas over the crime issue. The video apparently made unauthorized use of WMUR footage. An edited version of the video was reposted.
A tweet on the GOP's official Twitter account alleged that Arnold, a lawyer, knew a law was being broken "when he made his video. But he didn't care until he got caught red-handed.''
Then on primary day, the state GOP slammed the Patrick campaign for a re-tweet of a photo of the ballot apparently posted originally by City Democratic Chairman Liz Kulig. The GOP said posting the ballot could violate state law.
Arnold declined to respond specifically to the allegations made by the Republicans. "I'm aware of the New Hampshire Republican Party discussing our campaign on social media," he said. "I'd say our campaign is not about partisan bickering, but talking about real solutions to the challenges (we face)."
Of course, when it comes to getting nasty, Arnold's campaign can certainly dish it out. On the night of the primary, the campaign issued a statement referring to Gatsas as a multimillionaire and a bully. "Mayor Gatsas may think he can bully the people of this city into submission, but he is in for a rude awakening in November," Arnold's campaign manager, Kevin Hodges, opined in the release. Gatsas, for his part, said he wouldn't resort to name-calling, but he said he didn't feel any need to apologize for being wealthy. "My brother and I started a company and we employed an awful lot of people," he said. "I'm not ashamed of it. I'm proud of it. We were successful."
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The Ward 10 alderman race was another notable contest. Bill Barry, a retired police officer, won more votes than two-term incumbent Phil Greazzo, who was the runner-up. In addition, the Democratic vote was likely split between Barry and Jane Beaulieu, the longtime activist and state representative. Barry and Greazzo will face off in November, and things are already getting heated.
Greazzo, of course, is a Republican, and he's also a stickler for the rules. He noticed that Barry's campaign signs indicated they were paid for by the "friends of Bill Barry" political action committee. He then noticed that the Manchester teachers union indicated that it had donated to the Barry PAC. But as it turns out, no such committee is registered with the city.
On Thursday, Greazzo sent an email to City Clerk Matt Normand and state Attorney General Joe Foster. "Consider this a written complaint regarding my opponent's illegal campaign activity," he wrote.
Barry insisted that not registering as a PAC was a simple oversight; he had filed his disclosure form with the city as an individual, not a committee.
"I'm not trying to be sneaky at all," said Barry, who hasn't held elected office but ran for Hillsborough County sheriff in 2012. "I asked the city clerk, 'Tell me what I need to do.' This is all new to me."
The clerk did tell Barry what to do, and he's now registered as a PAC.
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For about a year now, the aldermen's Land and Buildings Committee has been engaged in an odd dance with the owner of the Dunkin' Donuts off Beech Street at the southern tip of Livingston Park. It goes like this: The owner says, 'I want to buy the little sliver of parkland that the coffee shop uses for parking and its drive-through.' The committee says, 'Mo, thanks, but we'll lease it to you.' And then the owner comes back and says, 'No thank you; I'd rather buy it.'
So it was that an attorney for Constantine Scrivanos, whose family owns the Dunkin' franchise, was again before the committee on Monday.
"We want to continue to express our interest in purchasing the property. We're not interested in leasing," the lawyer said, adding that they were willing to pay $50,000, which they considered the land's fair market value.
Scrivanos, if you haven't heard, is a Gatsas supporter, and he has donated to city and school initiatives. Most recently, he cut a $2,500 check to the mayor's campaign. Gatsas has taken an interest in the Livingston Park deal, and he has pointed to Scrivanos' generosity to the city, although he has not publicly advocated selling the land.
The Land and Buildings Committee has taken a dim view of a land sale, with the most vociferous objections expressed by Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, a thorn in Gatsas' side, and Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig, who is a former city parks director.
"I have all the respect in the world for this family. They do so much for the city, I get it," Ludwig said on Monday. But he said he opposes selling a chunk of parkland, however small, as a matter of principle. "I'm very happy to let them be there a long time," he said. "I'm willing to do some small lease that will allow them to continue over time, that will give them financial stability. If that's not good enough for you, I'm sorry, but I'm not selling."
The committee voted to have the city pursue a lease with the Dunkin' Donuts owner. And so the dance continues....
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Primary day was also when we finally got a good look at the finances of the Arnold campaign. And those, too, surpassed expectations. He reported taking in more than $64,000 between January and the primary. A good chunk of the money came from public employee unions, as is often the case for Democrats in high-profile races. But there was one notably large contribution - $1,000 - from an individual: Nick Want.
Want has been an outspoken critic of the mayor when it comes to school funding, and he's a leader of the group Citizens for Manchester Schools, which has rallied around the issue. The group has maintained that it is a nonprofit that does not engage in political advocacy. Did the donation to Arnold represent a pooling of CMS funds?
No, was the answer from Want. "It was my personal funds," he said. "We need to change the direction in the way this city is managed, and it's clear that the current mayor is putting blinders on and putting his head in the sand regarding fundamental issues."
Ted Siefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.