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Gatsas vs. ?
A look at the Manchester mayor's non-race

07/21/11



So far, it just doesn't look like much of a race, the Manchester mayoral race that is. But there's still time.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who won convincingly in his first run two years ago against then-alderman Mark Roy, appears to be operating from a position of strength.

The big question for a while was whether Gatsas, a former Republican state senator and senate president, would run for higher office, perhaps that of governor. As he launched his mayoral reelection bid, he announced he would be serving his entire term in office if reelected in November, which would presumably preclude him from running for governor — not that a politician has ever gone back on his or her word.So far, it just doesn't look like much of a race, the Manchester mayoral race that is. But there's still time.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who won convincingly in his first run two years ago against then-alderman Mark Roy, appears to be operating from a position of strength.  

Former Manchester Republican politician Richard Girard said he expects Gatsas to be elected without much question. If Gatsas hadn’t committed to finishing a second term as mayor, that could have been a major liability, Girard said.

The race is technically non-partisan, though the two parties often get involved.

“Could the right candidate find a way to exploit some issues?” Girard said. “Of course, but that said, even a perfectly orchestrated campaign against the mayor’s perceived weaknesses would be unlikely to succeed. …He hasn’t given people a reason to say he’s got to go.”

A developing opposition

Several candidates stepped up to the plate two years ago, including Roy, former state senator Bobby Stephen, Glenn Ouellette and Richard Komi, but that was an open race. This year feels different.

Democrats in Manchester appear to be having some trouble finding a viable candidate to run against Gatsas. There was talk of Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau, a relatively young and popular alderman, running, but he said it was a no-go. Longtime school board member Chris Herbert has filed to run.

“There is going to be some opposition,” said former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party Kathy Sullivan, noting Herbert. “It should be a healthy competition.”

But Girard wasn’t sure Herbert carried enough weight.

“He’s a nice enough guy, but no one off the school board is going to take out the mayor,” Girard said. He wasn’t sure Herbert would have the name recognition to take on an incumbent mayor.

“That Democrats are still fishing around for a credible challenger is evidence of the fact they either think Gatsas is unassailable or they know the financial situation of the city is going to go from bad to worse,” meaning there will be other, better opportunities to go after the mayor down the road, Girard said.

Girard said it’s always difficult to take out a first-term incumbent. (As he said: he knows, he tried it.) He said people are naturally inclined to give mayors a second term because two years isn’t much time to work with.

But Sullivan thought mayors’ terms tended to carry a quick expiration date.

“I think every mayor is always vulnerable,” Sullivan said. “Mayors have a shelf life.”

Sullivan said simply through the course of governing and administrating, mayors are “going to do things that make people angry.”

“I think that given the nature of the position, you reach a point where you’ve angered enough people so that defeat is likely,” Sullivan said, though she said she wasn’t sure if Gatsas had reached that point after just one term. Still, she thought Gatsas has begun to anger some people.

Of course, every candidate has vulnerabilities. But Girard didn’t see anything he termed “fatal” with regard to Gatsas.

“And I do think people respect the effort he’s put in on behalf of the city,” Girard said, adding Gatsas has been an advocate for the city at the state and federal levels. “I don’t know that he’s done anything that people will hold against him.”

But the other problem for Democrats, Girard says, is that the natural constituency that would go after Gatsas would be the city’s unions, and Girard said they’ve alienated themselves with what he termed selfish behavior as Gatsas has tried to balance the budget. The union’s refusal to reopen contracts to help prevent layoffs and to show “they understand the plight of the taxpayer” would make it tough on any candidate they decide to get behind.

There might be some truth to that. Unions have taken their fair share of hits so far this year at the state level. Still, unions tend to have much in the way of campaign infrastructure, and they tend to be able to gear up their membership when necessary.

Girard figured Gatsas would run as someone who kept the lid on spending and taxes and who would continue to do so. Politically, there’s no reason to challenge the notion of restrained government spending.

Ticket impact

While the picture Girard paints is not a positive one for Democratic mayoral candidates, it’s still important for Democrats to field a strong candidate. Gatsas sits before a Democrat-dominated board of aldermen. If there’s no strong Democrat at the top of the ticket, voters could sway to the GOP as they move down the ticket.

“Ward representatives could be vulnerable to credible challenges in a way they wouldn’t be [if there was a strong Democratic mayoral candidate],” Girard said.

Still, with city elections technically non-partisan, the power of the R or the D is diminished, compared with what it would be in a statewide election.

It’s a Manchester thing

While media members and pundits will probably point to the mayoral race as an indicator of how things will go in the following year’s elections, Sullivan said that would be reading too deeply into the political tea leaves. She said she didn’t see any broader implications of the race regardless of how it turned out.

Manchester can be isolated from the rest of state politics. In fact, Sullivan said sometimes being from Manchester can have negative consequences for statewide politicians. She said Frank Guinta’s election to Congress might have been in spite of his being from the Queen City.
 






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