Ted Siefer's City Hall: Mayoral debate came down to a question of project financing
IT WAS an eventful week in city politics, with full board meetings of the aldermen and school board. And then there was the debate, the first between Mayor Ted Gatsas and his young challenger, Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold. As the event made clear, the two are a study in contrasts.
Gatsas sounded positive themes of progress and staying the course, while Arnold described a mayor who is out of touch with serious problems facing the city.
Arnold also sought to distinguish himself from Gatsas by stressing that he has a vision for the city. He described a dream he had, 10 years in the future, in which a young couple in the Boston area would contemplate making a trip to Manchester. "They can check out the 'Riverwalk,' and the new five-star restaurant, and while they're there, they decide to check out homes, and they don't even have to read up on Manchester schools, because it's well known they are the very best the state has to offer."
What's this about a "Riverwalk"?
Arnold's latest proposal is for a boardwalk along the Merrimack, much like they have in Providence, R.I. Arnold also wants to hire up to 20 more police officers, more teachers and to beautify downtown.
Maybe it's not surprising that his weakest answer in the debate may have come when an audience member asked how he proposed to fund such initiatives. In contrast, Gatsas was at his strongest as the practical, down-to-earth former businessman. "We also have taxpayers in this city. It's about how to pay for it," he said, adding what has become his trademark: "The questions are easy; the answers are hard."
In closing remarks, Gatsas sought to play up the contrast between him and the critical Arnold, who is 30 and moved to the city from the Baltimore area. "I've lived here all my life," Gatsas said. "Manchester is a wonderful, great city, and I would never sell us short."
There were no knockout moments, and Gatsas, as is well-known, generally steers clear of attacking his opponents. But there was one feisty moment.
Gatsas noted that Arnold had voted against a $2.8 million bond for technology upgrades in the schools. Arnold replied that he did so because he felt it was a "Band-Aid" solution.
"My mother taught me," Gatsas said, "sometimes Band-Aids are good for you."
Arnold: "Band-Aids don't help a broken arm."
What effect the debate will have is, well, debatable. It perhaps didn't help that the organizers, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, didn't allow media outlets to broadcast or record the debate from inside the hall at St. Anselm's Institute of Politics. Instead, the chamber said media could set up in the lobby outside the hall.
This was a sore point for one-man media outlet Rich Girard, who had broadcast the 2011 debate live on his morning radio show.
He pressed Robin Comstock, the chamber president, to allow him to air the event. "This unfounded excuse to stick us in the lobby is a disservice to the thousands of listeners who would otherwise tune live or visit our archive of the broadcast to hear the chamber ask its questions of the mayoral candidates," Girard wrote in an email to Gemma Waite French, the chamber's marketing director. (Girard posted his entire exchange with the chamber online.)
French told me that the audio recording would have been "disruptive."
"Our event, first and foremost, is for our chamber members," she said. "They're open to the public, and we invite the media to attend. We like having media there. (Girard) was invited and chose to not attend."
The debate, it should be mentioned, was taped by Manchester Public Television, and will continue to be shown periodically on Channel 22.
It's farewell to Peter Capano, the shaggy-haired, ever-friendly chief of the parks division.
A self-described "dirt guy," Capano has worked for the city for 26 years, much of the time as the chief inspector for the Highway Department. Three years ago, he became head of the newly reorganized parks division with the department.
This is Capano's last month with the city. He's retiring, and Mayor Gatsas recognized his service at Tuesday's aldermen's meeting.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments over 26 years," Capano said. "I don't think you'll find anywhere in the city a construction project or sewer or drain . that I didn't have a finger in. I'm proud that my adopted city of Manchester has given me these opportunities."
Capano later told me that sewer pipes he recalled installing were now being decommissioned. "It was a clue that I've been around for a while," he said.
What's next for Capano? He says he and his wife will remain in Manchester, and he hopes they will be doing some traveling, including trips to Europe.
Was Capano interested in following the path of some other past department heads and running for office? "I won't rule anything out," he said. "We'll see."
In the meantime, Capano says he'll be keeping an eye on the city's medians, roads and parks for any problems. "I know the number to call," he said.
Tuesday's aldermen's meeting was a long one and, as is often the case, some of the more significant items passed without discussion or debate.
In the interest of housekeeping, here's a partial rundown.
A revised "workplace violence policy" was passed that eliminated a provision that would have barred city employees from bringing guns to work. This was nearly passed at the previous meeting until Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo objected that the provision violated the Second Amendment and state law. The city solicitor later recommended its removal from the policy.
The aldermen also approved the fire department's plans to seek a $1 million federal grant to buy a new ladder truck, which would require the city to pony up $100,000.
They also approved grant applications for $40,000 to complete the Rockingham trail and develop a master plan to enhance bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The money would come from the New Hampshire Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program. And just so we're clear, as one of the men who oversee the program explained to me, the grant money is coming from a donor, not the state.
Ted Siefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.