I FOUND THE RESULTS of Tuesday’s Manchester primary election depressing.
I write not about the mayoral race, but the races for two other citywide positions — alderman at-large and school board at-large.
I fret because the two people who topped the ticket in the two races — Joe Kelly Levasseur and Jim O’Connell — are ideological opposites. Hence my fellow voters and I have provided no direction for the city, other than a Manchester Middle East, a city always in conflict. A den of sworn enemies.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” admitted Tammy Simmons, a former Republican city chair. “There’s a slice (of people) that likes anyone who’s outspoken. Joe and Jim both are, just in opposite directions.”
Levasseur, a Republican and avid supporter of former President Donald Trump, has been involved in city politics the longer of the two. If he wins the general election, he will have a seventh term as alderman. He has an uncanny ability to convert potential bad publicity — such as confronting a parking officer over a ticket — into favorable press.
In three of the last five alderman at-large elections, he has been the top vote-getter.
O’Connell, a Democrat, is running for his second term on the school board. He was top vote-getter in the school board at-large race two years ago.
They don’t agree on what the results mean.
“The country and the city are split down the middle. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground,” Levasseur said.
O’Connell said the outcome shows him that people don’t vote along ideological lines.
“They vote for the people they perceive will represent them, work hard for them and be responsive to them,” he said.
O’Connell won 4,400 votes compared to 3,550 for Levasseur. It would be easy to say that O’Connell won the popularity contest, but O’Connell had only four other opponents. And he actually lost by 1,800 votes to the top-vote getter — the number of blank ballots in the race.
Levasseur had seven other opponents. Right on his tail was Dan Goonan, the former Manchester fire chief who wants to run a non-partisan campaign.
The third highest vote-getter in that race was blank ballots, at 3,350, meaning large numbers do agree on something — not doing their homework so they can cast intelligent informed votes up and down the ballot.
Kathy Sullivan, a Manchester resident and former Democratic National Committee member, said there are several factors involved in the strong showings for the two.
She suspects both encouraged their supporters to bullet vote, meaning that the voter, faced with two choices, would vote for only one, denying a vote for any other competitor, even a political ally. (Both deny doing so.)
And she said they are both well known.
“Obviously, Joe’s always doing things to put his name out there. They both have (public access) TV shows. They’re both very well known,” Sullivan said.
(She actually sees more drama for the second alderman-at large position. Will the likeable Goonan be able to tread a non-partisan tightrope? Will the hard work of June Trisciani pay off? Will veteran alderman Dan O’Neil survive his biggest challenge yet?)
As for O’Connell and Levasseur, I like them both. They are intelligent, articulate and engaging. And, unlike Mayor Joyce Craig, they return my calls and those of my reporter colleagues.
They both live in the North End’s Ward 2 — Levasseur off Wellington Hill, O’Connell in the older Currier museum neighborhood.
O’Connell is 63; Levasseur 60.
Both sent their children to Catholic elementary schools. The four O’Connell children switched to public schools in their middle school years. Levasseur’s two boys are still at St. Catherine elementary school.
They have their differences.
Levasseur is a Manchester native and grew up in Elmwood Gardens housing project.
O’Connell grew up in Ireland and has lived in the United States since 1992. He became a citizen in July 2019, the same day he registered to run for the school board.
O’Connell worked for tech companies in the network security business and now does business consulting and copywriting.
His biggest accomplishment on the school board is prodding his colleagues to review school buildings and facilities and start the decision-making process on their future, he said.
Levasseur used to own and run restaurants and is now a lawyer. His biggest political accomplishment over the past two years is blocking budgets that would exceed the city’s tax-and-spending cap, he said.
The general election in November will probably draw twice as many voters as last week’s primary. My hunch is that both will get re-elected. So divided government will prevail?
“Isn’t that good in some ways?” Republican Simmons said. “Think what it would be like if all Democrats, all of one thought process, won. There would be no middle ground.”
Likewise, Levasseur sees a divided Manchester. He doesn’t expect many Manchester residents will vote for both him and O’Connell on Nov. 2.
“From my side of the aisle, I don’t see why people would vote for this guy,” Levasseur said.
O’Connell didn’t want to acknowledge that some of his supporters may also vote for Levasseur. He said Manchester is more divided along lines of old and new than Republican-Democrat.
To him, it’s the well-connected people with ancestral ties to the city vs. newcomers with young families who want a vibrant city with good schools and other amenities.
“If there is a divide,” he said, “it’s that divide right there.”