Ted Siefer's City Hall: It was a week of finger-pointing in Manchester politics
It was a slow week at City Hall, but with the election just a couple of weeks away, the same can't be said for the campaign trail - and things are getting a little nasty out there. Let's start this campaign edition of the column with the question: Is the city Republican Committee trying to jettison Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur?
When the city GOP puts out its mailings and ads this week touting its slate of candidates, Levasseur won't be among them. The committee recently voted to adopt a policy that it would not support candidates who "bash" fellow Republicans, in the words of Tammy Simmons, the committee's interim chairman.
There is, of course, one Republican in particular that Simmons was referring to, Mayor Ted Gatsas, with whom Levasseur has had a frosty relationship, to put it mildly.
"That was a significant concern for us," Simmons said. "It's no secret that he has been publicly bashing fellow Republicans, and the mayor is a very big part of the Republican team in Manchester."
Levasseur said he was insulted by the move. "I've disagreed with (Gatsas) on a few occasions," he said. "I don't agree with myself 200 percent of the time. How am I going to agree with Teddy Gatsas 200 percent of the time? I'm not a lemming following people over a cliff. I have constituents' concerns in mind every time I vote on an issue. I don't vote party lines; I vote my conscience, which is conservative," he said.
Levasseur added that he was a former chairman of the city GOP and had helped raise "thousands of dollars" for candidates.
Gatsas said he had nothing negative to say about Levasseur, nor did he want to comment on the matter; it was the GOP committee that came up with the policy, he said.
But Levasseur sees Gatsas' fingerprints all over the decision. He notes that B.J. Perry, the mayor's campaign manager, is one of the four board members on the committee, and no Republican in the city has coffers so overflowing as Gatsas.
Levasseur is facing two Republican challengers: S. Daniel Mattingly and Will Infantine. (Democrat Dan O'Neil is a likely lock for the other at-large seat.)
Infantine had recently become chairman of the GOP committee until he temporarily stepped down; he said he didn't want there to be any perception of a conflict of interest during the campaign.
Infantine and Levasseur are buddies, but lately some distance has opened up between them. "The Will and Joe Show" on Manchester Public Television is now "The Joe Kelly Levasseur Show." Infantine insists he took a leave as co-host when he became the GOP chairman; the show has guests of all political persuasions, but he didn't want to be seen as "beating them up."
Infantine says he and Levasseur are still friends, and for his part, he thinks Levasseur will be a top vote-getter on Election Day, as he was in 2011. "Some people don't like his style, but when it comes down to it, he stands there and fights. People respect that," he said.
Levasseur says he hasn't raised a whole lot of money to do his own advertising, but then he's probably the most well-known politician in the city next to Gatsas. And he still has his old signs from 2011 that he's putting up, the ones that list Levasseur and Infantine together, as a joint ticket.
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There was a certain irony in Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo having to explain himself to someone from the Attorney General's Office last week. A critic of the Manchester Dog Park Association lodged a complaint against the group, which Greazzo co-founded, over whether it was properly registered.
Greazzo, of course, is often on the other end of complaints filed with the AG's Office. He alleged campaign finance irregularities against state Sen. Lou D'Allessandro when he ran against him in 2012. And he's done the same against his current opponent, Bill Barry, who is considered formidable.
As Greazzo has noted, Barry didn't register with the city as a political action committee even though he collected campaign donations in the name of such an entity. Barry called it an oversight, and he subsequently did file a report for his PAC with the city. Greazzo's latest AG complaint concerns the fact that Barry never filed reports with the Office of the Secretary of State when he ran for Hillsborough County sheriff in 2012. The AG's Office is investigating the matter and is expected to have a report soon.
"I already see a pattern of hiding things from voters," Greazzo said. "If that pattern is happening at the state and city level, you can't just say, 'Oops, I didn't know.'"
Greazzo said the report Barry belatedly filed with the city also raises concerns, in particular the fact that most of the money came from public sector unions - and the largest single contribution, $1,000, came from the "Gabby PAC," which was established by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, D-Arizona, who was shot in the head. That group, Greazzo has noted, is "working to reduce Second Amendment rights nationwide."
"The only conclusion I can draw (for not disclosing his donations) is that they came from special interest groups or unions, whose contracts he'll be voting on if elected," he said.
Barry insisted there was nothing inappropriate about his sheriff's campaign and that he kept careful records of its finances. "The AG's Office is way too busy to waste time investigating me. They got the girl missing in North Conway. They don't need this," he said.
Referring to Greazzo's allegations, he said, "It's upsetting to me and my family, for these people to keep throwing mud at my campaign."
As for the check from the Gabby PAC, Barry said he met Giffords and her husband over the summer and was very impressed. "She's an American hero," said Barry, who is a retired police officer.
He said he never asked for the money, and that the only aspect of gun control he supported was increased background checks. "I'm all for the Second Amendment. I'm a gun owner myself. But as far getting them off the Internet or guns shows, we've got to make sure there are no loopholes," he said.
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On Thursday, the city GOP sent out a press release noting that three Democratic candidates for alderman and school board seats had unpaid property tax bills. Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw owes $2,077 for her 2013 tax bill; Ward 6 school board member Dan Bergeron owes $2,018; and Ward 4 school board candidate Amy Bradley owes $1,852.
"Every homeowner knows full well that their property taxes are due July 1st," said Tammy Simmons, the acting chairman of the committee, in the release. "For Alderman Shaw or School Committeeman Bergeron to have the audacity to vote for increases in spending that results in their constituents paying higher taxes when they are negligent in paying their own is insulting to the residents they are supposed to represent."
Shaw had amassed a more-than-$10,000 debt in unpaid tax bills earlier this year, but has since paid them down. "My finances are my problem," she said. "I do the best I can to make ends meet. Sometimes I get behind, but I always get caught up at some point. When a constituent calls me and says I have problem I need help with, I don't ask, 'Did you pay your taxes?'"
Bergeron also cited unique financial circumstances. "When I returned to full-time work, I did so with the confidence of a decision well made, and of course, a few payment plans," he said in an email.
There is a bit of wrinkle in Simmons' news release. It turns out she also is behind on her payments to the city; she's hasn't paid her sewer bills in three years and has a debt of $1,261, according to the city tax collector's website.
For Liz Kulig, the chairman of the city Democrats, this was the "definition of hypocrisy."
"Or maybe not paying your tax bill is a requirement to be a Republican Party Chair in New Hampshire," Kulig said.
Simmons made the point that she's not running for office. "Like so many people in Manchester, I struggle to make ends meet," she said in a follow-up email.
"This is why I think it is so important that we elect folks that believe in responsible spending and live within its means so that the residents of Manchester can continue to live within theirs."
Ted Siefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.