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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Gatsas campaign files hefty financial report

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 27. 2013 3:19PM

Last week, we learned that in just three short months, Mayor Ted Gatsas pulled in more than $150,000 for his reelection campaign. That's an impressive haul for a candidate seeking any office in New Hampshire, including governor. Just saying.

Gatsas filed his disclosure report a week earlier than he needed to as an incumbent candidate - and a good seven weeks earlier than he needed to if he were filing as a political committee.

The move could be seen as a way for the campaign, just as the political season is kicking into higher gear, to flex its muscle. Next to Gatsas, his opponent, Alderman Patrick Arnold, does look pretty puny in the fundraising department. This at least is how one prominent political blogger took it, comparing Gatsas' tally with the amount cited in a letter sent out by the Arnold campaign urging donors to help it reach its goal of $7,500 for the month.

Arnold said the post was misleading, and he insisted that the campaign was on track to raise $50,000 by the time he files his report, which is due Sept. 7. "I'm confident we'll be able to communicate our message to voters," he said.

In any event, Gatsas' announcement did seem to catch the Arnold campaign by surprise.

Arnold, unlike the mayor, is collecting contributions through his political committee, Friends of Patrick Arnold. By charter, committees don't have to file their first report until 10 days before the primary.

Of course Gatsas' campaign report - seven pages of itemized receipts and expenditures - carries more heft than Arnold's insistence that his campaign is on target.

"I don't point fingers at people. It is what it is," Gatsas said, referring to Arnold's decision to file at a later date as a committee. "But we consistently do the same thing. We file what we spent our money on and who contributed."

Since Arnold makes a point of emphasizing transparency, why not disclose his campaign finances earlier?

Arnold fired back with characteristic bluntness: "I appreciate Mayor Gatsas' interest in transparency, so much so that I'm sure he has an explanation as to why companies seeking city contracts are making contributions to his campaign."

It is true that businesses and business owners figure prominently among Gatsas' donors, and some of them have had business before the city. Gatsas' top donors include auto dealers and developers.

But Arnold may have been referring more specifically to the fact that Gatsas received checks from executives at both American Medical Response and American Ambulance Inc., the two companies that fought mightily for the city's emergency ambulance contract.

But the two checks that came directly from these two parties were paltry compared with, say, the $10,000 donation from AutoFair. And the larger check, for $500, came from American Ambulance, not AMR, the company that Gatsas backed for the contract.

Gatsas bristles at the suggestion that anyone can buy influence with him; he can make the case that many of his supporters in the business community are long-standing friends. And those kinds of friends can be good to have.

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Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo generally subscribes to the view that government is more often the problem than the solution. And in making his case, he can point at his own garage.

Greazzo's West Side home sits above the Piscatquog River Trail, and over the last few years, he's seen the soil supporting his garage steadily erode, to the point that he's concerned about it collapsing.

"The Parks Department built the trial, but they didn't put in any erosion controls or suppression," he said.

A couple of weeks ago, Greazzo was before the Land and Buildings Committee to request he be given permission to go onto city-owned land in order to shore up the foundation for his garage and possibly build a retaining wall.

Greazzo has raised the issue before. He's had members of the previous L&B committee out to the site. There are several homes along the trail that face similar problems. At the time, city officials estimated it could cost a few million dollars to shore up the embankment, according to Greazzo.

"They never took care of it - and I doubt they will soon," he said. "I wouldn't ask my neighbors to pay for it. I'm going to pay for it myself."

The committee approved his request. So at least they gave him that.

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The filing period for the 2013 municipal election ended last week, and there were, as expected, a lot of familiar names, both incumbents and longtime politicians getting back in the ring.

But there are also some newcomers making their first runs for public office. In the coming weeks, I'll try to introduce you to some of them.

For starters, there's Theo Groh and Joe Whitten.

Groh is running for the Ward 3 school board seat, taking on another relative newcomer, Chris Stewart. Groh is a recent graduate of St. Anselm College, where he was the president of the campus Democrats. At age 22, Groh would be among the youngest elected officials in city history.

"I think the future success of Manchester is tied to successful schools and a successfully run district," Groh said. "There are a lot of great things that make Manchester a great place to live, and that's been one of the things that's missing."

Whitten, a Republican, is running for the Ward 6 alderman seat against Garth Corriveau.

Whitten, who was born and raised in the city, describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a supporter of the tax cap.

He said he's worked both in the corporate world and for faith-based groups, and he served on the board of Mount Zion Christian Schools.

Whitten stressed that one of his priorities would be constituent services. "If you're not making it a full-time job, I'm not sure you belong in the position. Constituents have a lot of needs," he said.

Ted Siefer may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.

City Hall Manchester

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