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Paul Feely's City Hall: Trump's 'drug-infested den' remark sets off fierce debate

August 06. 2017 1:13AM


WHEN THE WASHINGTON POST reported last week that President Donald Trump said in a January phone call that he "won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den," his words predictably drew condemnation from the state's Congressional delegation and Gov. Chris Sununu and Mayor Ted Gatsas.

But two city aldermen who backed Trump during the election said the President's remarks need to be put in context.

First, said Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann, the remark was made in January on a telephone call to the president of Mexico right after the inauguration.

"President Trump was angry, inferring (sic) that it was Mexico's fault because their cartels are destroying U.S. cities. Lastly, the opioid fact sheet sent out this week by MFD says 465 people overdosed and 39 people died since the President's phone call in Manchester alone. We must have border security and the wall to defeat these cartels. Congress must act, and Mexico must help."

Added Alderman-at-large Joseph Kelly Levasseur:

"The President should be able to carry on private conversations with world leaders without the fear of everything he says being leaked. No other President has ever had this happen to him. Shows how deep and wide the swamp is. And his comment - in the context it was made - is spot on. Mexico should pay for the wall."

Both Gatsas and fellow mayoral candidate Joyce Craig condemned Trump's remarks, with Gatsas issuing a statement saying, "The President has an opportunity before him with the request for an emergency declaration by the Presidential Commission on Addiction and Opioid Abuse. As I stated in my letter to him this is absolutely necessary and I hope that he sees fit to make that declaration rather than mischaracterize a state that has been at the forefront of addressing this crisis."

Craig tweeted a message saying, "Focus on solving this crisis, not belittling communities struggling with addiction or cutting Medicaid critical for treatment."

The mayor had just written to President Trump, urging him to make the emergency declaration. Gatsas sent the letter after the President's commission on addiction and opioid abuse issued its recommendation that a national emergency be declared, which Gov. Sununu said could open doors for more funding and direct money where it is needed most.

The report called for increased access to Narcan, a drug used to reverse overdoses; state data sharing, expanding treatment by allowing Medicaid funding for inpatient mental health facilities related to substance use disorders, funding incentives to enhance access to medication-assisted treatment, and support for prescription drug monitoring programs. The commission failed to detail specific funding levels.

In his letter, Gatsas noted that Manchester has been "at the heart of the heroin, fentanyl and opiate epidemic that our country is faced with."

"Our first responders, law enforcement, public health network, businesses, recovery community, state and local elected officials, and many more are working diligently to raise awareness and bring forward solutions," wrote Gatsas. "Collectively, our community has been steadfast in our dedication to ending this epidemic, we have refused to let this epidemic define our community, we faced it head on, and we are leading the way."

Gatsas detailed some of the ways Manchester is working to fight the epidemic, such as the Safe Station program, Operation Granite Hammer, and mobile crisis response team.

"The requested emergency declaration is an absolutely necessary action that I wholeheartedly support, and I hope that you will also," writes Gatsas. "This declaration has the potential to increase funding directed to the local municipalities where resources are either exhausted or scarce. This declaration has the potential to heighten awareness of this crisis we as a country are facing. This declaration sends a message that we are committed to ending the epidemic rather than letting it define us.

"Mr. President, our city, our state and our country are in the midst of a public health crisis unlike anything we've ever seen. Because our public health is compromised, our public safety is at risk. On all fronts the City of Manchester has made considerable progress in battling the opioid epidemic, however, there is still much more to be done and I respectfully request your approval for the emergency declaration."

The City Clerk's office will conduct another series of Voter Registration Drives prior to the State Primary Election on Sept. 19.

Dates and times:

. Saturday, Aug. 12: Family Fest at Veteran's Park on Elm Street, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.

. Saturday, Aug. 19: We Are One Festival at Veteran's Park, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

. Saturday, Aug. 26: Greek Fest at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 111 Island Pond Road, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

. Sunday, Aug. 27: Friends of Stark Park Summer Concert Series, Stark Park on North River Road, 2-4 p.m.

Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email:

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