Former Manchester Mayor John Mongan remembered for service

New Hampshire Union Leader
June 20. 2013 10:46PM


MANCHESTER — John Mongan, the mayor who served two stormy terms in the 1960s while pushing through the concept of industrial parks, died Thursday at a Manchester nursing home, a close friend said.

Mongan, who was 88, died at Villa Crest nursing home, where he shared a room with his wife, Mary Mongan, said Robert Baines, a Mongan protégé who served three terms as mayor in the 2000s. Baines was unsure of the cause of death and said Mongan had been at the nursing home for several years.

A moderate Republican, Mongan served as mayor in 1962-63, lost reelection, then was elected again in 1968-69, according to information about mayors on the city's website.

"He wasn't a favorite of the Union Leader," Baines said. "He was very progressive and challenged the status quo. He asserted the office of mayor in ways never seen before."

A former aide, Richard Fortin, credits Mongan for laying groundwork for three industrial parks on the outskirts of the city proper, fighting both state bureaucrats and Democratic aldermen who did not want to give him credit for anything.

Despite their efforts, Mongan is largely credited with the Brown Avenue Industrial Park, and two years ago it was renamed in his honor. Fortin said Mongan worked behind the scenes for industrial parks at the airport and on East Industrial Drive.

"He understood that the city had to change," said former Mayor Sylvio Dupuis. "We always say people are visionaries. He really was."

In a statement, Mayor Ted Gatsas said: "Today the Brown Avenue Industrial Park continues to thrive because of Mayor Mongan's steadfast dedication to the Queen City." Following tradition, black curtains will obscure the windows of Gatsas' office today in honor of Mongan.

Baines said Mongan began his political career losing a close election to long-serving Mayor Josaphat T. Benoit in the late 1950s. The election was close enough that the Benoit did not seek reelection, and Mongan won in 1961.

He lost in the following primaries, in part because he didn't do the glad-handling expected of politicians.

"His mind was always somewhere else," Fortin said. Mongan would walk down the street and not say hello to acquaintances, who would then call the office and complain about the snub.

"It was very frustrating for those who supported him," Fortin said.

But Mongan returned four years later to defeat Roland Vallee. His campaign included the soft touch of his wife as well as hardball politics. The Mongans handed out roses to workers leaving the afternoon shift at the Mill-yard, and they sent formal invitations requesting the vote of the recipient.

"They made a great team together," Fortin said of the two.

Days before the election, the Union Leader ran a full-page Mongan advertisement that highlighted generous tax abatements Vallee had received on his Manchester properties. "Your taxes keep going up, up, up while Vallee's go down, down, down," the ad read.

Mongan won the election by 38 votes, the closest ever in the city, Baines said.

Democratic aldermen were overwhelmingly hostile to Mongan, and he relied on Mary to handle the politics, Fortin said.

Mongan went on to work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was appointed regional administrator by President Reagan, Baines said. He campaigned for Congress, U.S. Senate and governor, but only won his two terms as mayor.

"He was my inspiration to run for office," Baines said.

Mary Mongan went on to become New Hampshire commissioner of health and human services and president of the Hillcrest Terrace retirement community.

She suffers from dementia and remains at Villa Crest.

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