It’s no surprise that Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas easily won election to a second two-year term.
It probably wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Gatsas used his victory, in garnering nearly 70 percent of the vote, as a launching pad for a run for governor. Gatsas has gone from a declaration earlier this year that he would serve the full two years as mayor if he was reelected, to hedging somewhat, to now admitting he’s at least considering a run, according to reports. Gatsas beat veteran school board member Chris Herbert in the mayoral race.
What’s changed is that four-term Gov. John Lynch announced in September he would not seek a fifth term. Gatsas probably wouldn’t admit it but that sort of changes the field.
But Gatsas’s convincing victory probably sends at least somewhat of a message to Ovide Lamontagne, who might have peaked earlier this year when he emerged as a sort of kingmaker. Lamontagne felt like the presumptive frontrunner, and he still might be, but Gatsas’ entering the race would shake things up for sure. Gatsas would be able to lay claim to a large base of support in Manchester, which is also where Lamontagne resides.
Right now, it’s just Lamontagne and Democrat Maggie Hassan as official candidates. Kevin Smith resigned from his post as executive director of Cornerstone Research and had admitted in reports he was thinking about a run. Then there’s John Stephen, 2010’s gubernatorial challenger. He’s certainly a possibility given his strong run against Lynch in 2010, though he is a three-time loser now.
Lamontagne effectively rode the happy conservative horse in his bid for U.S. Senate in 2010, just barely losing to now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte. He benefited from Ayotte’s bitter war of words with Bill Binnie. Gatsas is probably the kind of formidable candidate who could dent Lamontagne’s shiny, happy exterior.
Stonyfield Yogurt’s CEO Gary Hirshberg might have been a candidate Democrats were hoping for, but according to a report by James Pindell of WMUR last week, Hirshberg said he’s not running.
While Herbert seemed like a sacrificial candidate running against a well-supported mayor, Democrats did try to make an issue of Gatsas’ hedging on whether or not he’d run for governor. Richard Girard, host of “Girard at Large” on WGAM AM 1250, said prior to the election that in a more closely fought race, whether Gatsas had intended to serve the whole term or cut it short to run for governor could have been an issue. Not so this time.
“I think what I’m taking away from the election is that there is general satisfaction with the job the mayor is doing, not necessarily so much with the incumbent aldermen, but with the mayor,” Girard said.
Jerome Duval, a former alderman and school board member, sensed that there wasn’t a lot of interest in city elections this year. Although the turnout was much better than at the primary in September, Duval was essentially right.
The city has seen a significant decline in voting in municipal elections since 1999. This time, 14,626 people voted, a 27-percent turnout. But according to the town clerk’s office, turnout has declined since 1999, when it was 56 percent, then 47 percent in 2003, 38 percent in 2005, 35 percent in 2007 and then 30 percent in 2009.
While Gatsas’ margin of victory was remarkable percentage-wise, he actually received a couple hundred fewer votes than he did two years ago — a product of the city’s declining voter turnout.
Girard figured lots of people stayed home assuming Herbert had no chance of winning. Who knows what the impact would have been if more people had come out, not just on the mayor’s race, but on the rest of the ticket?
Girard said he thought nonpartisan elections favor incumbents and he thought the nonpartisan nature of elections contributed to the declining turnout. Along with the nonpartisan elections, Girard said the lack of local media coverage of elections leads to an uninformed public, when it comes to the various candidates and their stances.
“People don’t know the candidates and they don’t know their positions and the issues,” Girard said. “People have no sense of who they’re voting for, and the nonpartisan system really aggravates that.”
The big news of the Manchester elections was that Joe Kelly Levasseur bested longtime Alderman At-Large Mike Lopez. Dan O’Neil held onto his seat. Will Infantine found himself on the losing end.
Levasseur seems to be a perennial candidate but he only narrowly lost to Sen. Lou D’Allesandro last year. He seemed to use his performance in that race as a springboard to success this time.
Girard had guessed that Lopez, a Democrat, wouldn’t get much support from unions, perhaps because he’s been willing to work with Gatsas on the city budget. Girard thought Levasseur’s victory signaled a message that taxpayers want more controls on government spending.
As far as aldermen go, Lopez was the only incumbent to lose. Democrats held a 13-1 advantage on the board of aldermen prior to the election and they’ll still hold a big majority, though city elections are officially nonpartisan.
Girard saw Alderman Jim Roy’s victory in Ward 4 as significant, given that Roy was running against a fellow Democrat, state Rep. Nick Levasseur, who had the support of the city’s firefighters union. Roy is a retired city firefighter. That Roy and Joe Kelly Levasseur won signaled to Girard that taxpayers were saying they generally agree with Gatsas and the direction he’s laid out but they wanted to bolster the board with more conservative candidates. He figured Gatsas, Levasseur and Roy can claim mandates.
In a particularly interesting race, incumbent Garth Corriveau, who many see as an up-and-coming politician, won 49 percent to 46 percent in Ward 6, beating Brian Desfosses, who officials said was a strong candidate.
In a race for the only open seat, Thomas Katsiantonis bested state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt in Ward 8, 52 percent to 42 percent.
Alderman Phil Greazzo barely bested Jane Beaulieu in his reelection bid in Ward 10. The final count was a difference of 17 votes, 634-617 (48.9 percent to 47.6 percent).
“Democrats threw everything they had at Greazzo and they almost got him,” Girard said.
In Ward 12, Alderman Patrick Arnold narrowly defeated Mark Nadzan 48 percent to 47 percent, a difference of 12 votes.
While Girard thought he was somewhat vulnerable in Ward 11, Alderman Russ Ouellette easily beat Emily Sandblade by about 20 percentage points.
Otherwise, incumbents won in comfortable fashion, with Ron Ludwig beating Craig Haynie in Ward 2, Ed Osborne winning in Ward 5 against Mike Segal, longtime Alderman William Shea beating Lisa Gravel in Ward 7, and Barbara Shaw beating Timothy Sawyer in Ward 9.
There was a little shake-up on the school board, where a couple incumbents lost and there were more open races.
Kathy Staub and David Wihby won relatively easily in their bids for school board at-large. Staub has been a longtime education activist in Manchester. She ran for school board two years ago but fell short. Wihby and Staub beat out Joshua Harwood and Ross Terrio. Former Manchester mayor Bob Baines had expected Staub and Wihby to be front-runners in this race.
Christopher Stewart scored an upset over an incumbent with 48 percent of the vote in his Ward 3 bid for school board against board member Michael DeBlasi. Challenger Jason Cooper beat incumbent Steve Dolman in Ward 11, 47 percent to 41 percent.
Girard was surprised DeBlasi lost, but Stewart campaigned hard. Going in, Girard said he thought it was do-able that Cooper could beat Dolman, and it ended up a victory by a fairly healthy margin.
Roy Shoults narrowly beat Brenda Lett in an open race in Ward 4 by a percentage count of 44 to 43. Herbert had held the Ward 4 seat.
Incumbent Dave Gelinas easily won his reelection bid in Ward 7 by nearly 50 points. Alan Cail ran against Gelinas. Debra Gagnon Langton, who had been an at-large member, also won easily in her bid for school board in Ward 2.
In the Ward 12 race, incumbent Roger Beauchamp held onto his seat, beating Carlos Gonzalez by a percentage count of 47 to 42.
In a narrow race for an open seat in Ward 8, Erika Connors beat Robert Schiavoni 48 percent to 43 percent. In another open race, Ted Rokas easily won his Ward 5 bid against Tara Powell.
Making it an interesting race for the first time in years, Diane Guimond mounted a strong challenge to Paul Martineau for welfare commissioner, but Martineau hung on to his seat by a 47-41 percentage count.