Former mayor offers advice and perspective
When John Mongan became mayor of Manchester, following the 18-year reign of Josaphat Benoit, astronauts had not yet orbited the earth, much less landed on the moon. Shopping malls and industrial parks were still in the future and Manchester had not yet built the JFK, let alone the Verizon Wireless, arena.
The city has undergone a lot of changes since then, including several during Mongan’s two non-consecutive terms (1962-63, 1968-69). Here, the 80-year-old former mayor recalls the politics of a different era.
Q. People have often said Mayor Benoit kept taxes low by deferring maintenance on schools and infrastructure that later mayors and aldermanic boards had to deal with. Is that what you found when you came in?
A. That was the truth, but the truth I also told — after I left office and had a chance to think about Benoit and his campaign — was actually that he was doing what he had to do. Because if he went back and spent money on the schools, he would raise the taxes. If he raised the taxes, people would transfer their kids from the parochial schools to the public schools and he’d start something that would keep on going. And he’d have to build more public schools to take care of the kids.
So it was at a period where we were just trying to keep breathing until the next time… But he did during his time (build) the three junior highs, the three middle schools that we have now.
Q. When you took office in ’62, what was your program for economic development?
A. My first week, I went before the Industrial Council and I said I want two things: I want an industrial park and I want a speculative industrial plant. We did a speculative industrial plant, and Antenna Systems occupied the thing before it was even completed, down at Grenier Field, right across from the old terminal.
I was after my industrial park up there by where the vocational-technical college is now, right above Amoskeag Village. Pretty good, big piece of land. I went after that with the alderman and they voted it down. And what I got of it, really, was that it wasn’t that I was Republican or Democrat or it wasn’t because they didn’t like me or anything, they just didn’t understand it. And they voted it down.
Q. So did you get an industrial park at Grenier Field?
A. Yes and my next one was the Brown Avenue Industrial Park. Then I wanted land rezoned in southeastern Manchester, and it was a huge amount of acreage. And so one of the owners of it called me up and said he was for selling the land to industry and all of that, “But you’re selling an industrial park and you’ve got marked-down land there on Brown Avenue,” because we sold (the land) for less than what it cost, so it was subsidized in that regard.
He had himself a point, that not only were we competing with him, but we were competing with a subsidized product. I didn’t have an answer for him. I never had to have an answer because the aldermen voted me down.
Q. So why did the people vote you out after your first term?
A. You’re forgetting one big thing, one huge thing — the Union Leader and William Loeb. When I got elected the first time, he had nothing to do with it. Absolutely nothing. But then he invited me on his team, so to speak. So he wanted me to attack Governor (Wesley) Powell. He didn’t say so in so many words, but that was what he wanted.
I was running for office, and I wasn’t going to be his fall guy for doing his things, so I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So he turned on me, and I had misery all the time I was mayor with the Union Leader.
So what do you think my pay was back then?
Q. That’s a good question.
A. Five thousand dollars. It was terrible. I went to the bank one time and I started telling the banker, my wife can’t — I can’t — even buy her something to go to a dance with, as far as clothes goes. And the banker said, “Well, I guess you can’t go.” Oooh, I could clobber him!
Q. Since you left office, who do you think the best mayor has been?
Q. OK, since you left office the second time, who do you think the best mayor has been?
A. I know what you’re saying. Wieczorek was mayor 10 years — nothing. I mean nothing. I got it laid out on a sheet of paper. Mongan’s record, all these tax revenues, jobs and the things we paid for with city funds, bridges — things like that. Then I’d go over to his record and not a thing in income and all expenses. And all he could say was, “That John Mongan thinks he’s so smart!”
Q. Well, we got the Verizon arena, a lot of airport expansion happened on his watch, a lot of the space in the Millyard got filled. Isn’t that something?
A. Well, it’s true, they went through this prosperity time with high tech. But high tech has caved in again.
Q. Do you have any advice for Frank Guinta, the new mayor — how to deal with the aldermen, for example, how to get things done?
A. No, what I would do first is educate myself. Get out there and see what’s happening.
Q. Is his youth a plus or a liability, do you think?
A. Well, there was only a six-month difference when I was there. Use it as a plus. You’re too damn dumb to know you can’t do things. That’s what it comes down to. You just go ahead and do it, because you’re too dumb to know that you can’t.