GOP rival: Pignatelli broke vow on tolls

CONCORD – Republican Executive Council candidate Stephen Stepanek, of Amherst, claimed Thursday that Democratic Councilor Debora Pignatelli, of Nashua, broke campaign promises to deliver toll relief to Merrimack residents and to crusade against no-bid or single-source state contracts.

“Councilor Pignatelli has had four years on the council to deal with the Merrimack toll issue, yet she has failed,” Stepanek said.

“This is what happens to politicians who have been in government for 20 years.”

Stepanek, 57, said he’s working on a plan to give motorists in Merrimack a break because all three exits off the F.E. Everett Turnpike have ramp tolls.

“I think I have a plan that will, to a certain degree, help everyone,” Stepanek said, declining as yet to offer details.

“No plan will make everybody happy,” he added.’

Pignatelli, 60, said residents of Merrimack know she has fought harder than anyone to try to bring motorists there some financial help and would keep at it if she’s elected to a third two-year term in District 5.

“He’s right about Merrimack,” Pignatelli said.

“I’ve tried my hardest and couldn’t convince the other councilors or the governor either to provide some relief. This is probably the most frustrating experience in my career in state politics.”

>>>N.H. Campaigns 2008

Pignatelli served in the Legislature for 16 years before succeeding a 30-year veteran on the council in 2004, former Nashua Mayor Bernie Streeter.

In October, Pignatelli thought she had the support of two Democratic colleagues, Councilor Beverly Hollingworth, of Hampton, and Councilor John Shea, of Nelson, – for eliminating the 50-cent charge at the ramp tolls in Merrimack.

At Pignatelli’s request, Gov. John Lynch and the council agreed to meet in Merrimack and hear the concerns of residents and town officials.

But the council voted, 4-1, to turn down Merrimack’s bid as other councilors and Lynch said it was unfair to eliminate any charges while at the same time increasing tolls at six other locations to finance a $275 million turnpike construction program.”I don’t consider it a lost cause,” Pignatelli said. “I am very disappointed but determined to keep looking for any opening to make Merrimack’s case.”

Pignatelli made opposition to no-bid and single-source contracts a central theme of her council campaigns.

Stepanek claimed over the past two years she’s opposed only 30 of 506 such contracts.

“For a councilor who has campaigned so heavily on an issue, you would think she would send a message by voting against sole-source contracts,” Stepanek said.

“She actually empowered state agency heads.”

Pignatelli questioned whether Stepanek inflated the number of contracts at issue because agencies often seek amendments to existing contracts. Agency heads provide the council with justification about such contracts in advance of meetings because she made this an issue, Pignatelli said.

“Everybody knows I have been vigilant about sole-source and no bid contracts,” Pignatelli said.

“After the explanation, sometimes I support the request and many times I do not. I do believe there are certain cases when it is appropriate to have no bid contracts.” Acceptable reasons for no-bid contracts are during an emergency, because there’s only one qualified vendor, the firm has proprietary control over the product or service or it’s mandated by the federal government, Pignatelli said.

Stepanek founded Hampshire Paper Co., a floral and wrappings paper maker that opened in Nashua three decades ago and now is in Milford. He sold his interest to his brothers six years ago and now owns office buildings in Manchester and runs a cell tower development business.

He’s serving a third term in the House of Representatives, has a seat on the Finance Committee and is a member of the House GOP leadership.