BOB LaPREE/UNION LEADER ¬ Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas delivers his inaugural address at the Palace Theatre Tuesday. (1/5/10)
MANCHESTER POLITICS can be a nasty business, but they may have sunk to new depths this past week with the news of a "sexting" episode involving Rich Girard, the radio host and conservative political figure.
It began about a week ago, when a young woman named Melissa Gavazzi posted on her Facebook page a private exchange she appeared to have had with Girard a couple of days earlier. The series of Facebook instant messages begins with Girard alluding to his inebriated state and making a sexually suggestive comment to Gavazzi. Girard suggests meeting up with her. Gavazzi, according to the exchange, is initially willing to meet but later declines - several times.
Early the next morning, Girard tells Gavazzi that he's "proud" of her for saying no, that he didn't really intend to meet her in person, and that he was attempting to "show her something about herself."
Gavazzi accused Girard of turning around and trying to shame her - and this is what apparently prompted her to post the exchange on her Facebook page, for all of her friends and acquaintances to see.
This being New Hampshire, Gavazzi's friends knew friends who knew friends, and soon enough Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur - Girard's nemesis - discovered the post. In short order, Levasseur was sending around screen shots of the instant-message session, and this newspaper was one of the recipients.
Girard, by way of background, has regularly railed against Levasseur, accusing him, among other things, of making unfounded allegations of police intimidation - a claim that was ultimately supported by the state attorney general.
On Monday, Girard took to his radio show to address the matter, and to his credit he didn't invoke the "I was hacked" defense. It was, as he titled the accompanying post on his blog, "an act of contrition."
"It's not particularly good for my family, and my wife in particular," he said on the air. "I think what needs to be said is I screwed up. I screwed up in a most horrific way, and I really don't make excuses for it ... I apologized to the person involved and that person accepted."
Girard also addressed the disapproval some might express in light of the conservative stances he has taken. Girard's show is carried on WLMW, a Christian station.
"Fortunately, that I am a practicing Catholic does not mean I am perfect, nor does it mean I am inherently hypocritical," he said, "What separates us from those who do not believe is we understand we must accept responsibility and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt, repent ... and redeem yourself."
Later in the week, Girard told me that while he took responsibility for the interaction with Gavazzi, Levasseur was sinking to new lows in his efforts to publicize it. "I would think a sitting public official would have better things to do than ramp up the heat to destroy a family," he said.
For his part, Levasseur said it was "simply unacceptable behavior from someone who holds himself out as the voice of moral authority in this city. Hopefully, he will become a better father, husband and person as a result of his indiscretions."
Gavazzi has a media presence of her own; she describes herself in a column she writes for the Concord Patch website as "feminist, activist, socially liberal, fiscally conservative." She also has been a guest on Girard's show, as a volunteer with the Manchester Animal Shelter.
In an email, Gavazzi told me she had taken down the exchange from Facebook and accepted Girard's apology. But she said, "While he did apologize, he did it in a public way, and I feel it's because he was caught."
It's good to be the mayor. There's the recognition and the respect that comes from being the city's chief executive - and in the case of the current officeholder, there's the ability to give new names to things.
At Monday's school board meeting, Mayor Ted Gatsas suggested using the word "non-completer" in place of "dropout," an idea he picked up from a teacher recently.
"I think 'dropout' has a stigma," he said. "I think 'non-completer' says we're not sure if the student let himself down or the district let him down. I was hoping we could change our philosophy."
No sooner did Gatsas make the suggestion than it was crafted into a motion, which the board duly voted to approve.
There was one wrinkle. As the assistant superintendent pointed out, "dropout" is a technical term used by state officials.
"Guess what?" Gatsas said. "Maybe the state can change it."
A one-man city institution is retiring: Mike Roche, the Manchester Water Works technician who is also the longest serving president of any city union.
Roche started working for the Water Works more than 42 years ago, and he led the effort to unionize the workforce in 1982. He's been the president of United Steel Workers Local 8938 ever since.
Roche said his decision to retire had nothing to do with the fact that contract negotiations will be kicking into high gear later this year - and the city will likely once again be looking for concessions on health care and other benefits.
Roche said he would continue to support the cause of collective bargaining even after he steps down as union president. "There's a growing need every year. A lot of that is budget cuts and ... people in managerial positions that shouldn't be there," he said. "A union is something all employees should have when they work for anyone, public or private sector."
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.