The ‘Comeback Kid’ takes the reins in Manchester

On Jan. 5, former state Sen. Ted Gatsas became mayor of Manchester in what is probably the largest change in New Hampshire government this year.Succeeding Frank Guinta, the two-term Mayor who did not seek re-election and is running for the Republican nomination for Congress, Gatsas took office as CEO of his hometown and clearly was humbled and thrilled by the opportunity to lead it.The inaugural ceremony at the historic Palace Theatre brought together city and state residents of all political persuasions including many who had served with Gatsas in the Senate, as well as many friends and other citizens.Flanked by his wife and his mother on the stage, Gatsas clearly rose to the occasion. His speech, on the theme, “Imagine the Possibilities,” was well-reasoned, nicely delivered and set a tone that continued the tradition of the expressions and actions Gatsas has taken since his election in November.While he had a reputation as state senator and alderman of being hard on those he questioned, he has reached out to all segments of the city and sought to stress unity and cooperation since his election.One example of Gatsas’ outreach was his appearance at a Hooksett School Board meeting during the transition period to express to Hooksett, which sends its high school students to Manchester’s high schools (as does Auburn and Candia) the desire of Manchester to keep those students as part of Manchester’s education system and assure the Hooksett School Board of his intent to treat them as a partner in the education of the children.This action was in stark contrast to the actions of the school board and prior administration, which gave the impression to many that it did not know there was an agreement between the sending districts and Manchester that set forth the terms on which the education would be delivered.Gatsas — whom this column once dubbed the “Comeback Kid,” when he rose from virtual exile in the Senate to its presidency — was introduced at the inaugural ceremony by his former coach and former Manchester school principal Edward Wade. Wade noted that Gatsas did not need to serve in public office due to the successful business career he and his brother Michael had and the successful sale of the business that had rendered them financially independent.Nevertheless, Wade noted, Gatsas continues to serve the public, and whether one agrees or disagrees with any particular policy or program, no one in attendance doubted the dedication and enthusiasm the new mayor had for Manchester.Also inaugurated at the ceremony were the fourteen aldermen and fourteen school committee members, many of whom are new. Gatsas will need to follow up on his promise of bipartisanship, as the number of political allies he can cite on either board, at least from a party perspective, are few, with Democrats having overwhelming majorities on both boards, notwithstanding the fact that Manchester elections are non-partisan.One of the powers a Manchester mayor has is to name the members of committees both of the aldermanic board and the school board. In making his appointments of the committees and their chairs, Gatsas showed bi-partisanship on the aldermanic side while keeping many of the chairs of committees of the school board who had been appointed by Guinta, notwithstanding the fact that most of them are in the minority on the school board.Notably, Gatsas named two task forces of non-officeholders to present proposals on city government and the schools.The first, a committee to study the structure of the city’s departmental organization and possible efficiencies, modernization and consolidation of functions was named and asked to report its findings by March 15. (As a matter of full disclosure, this writer was named the convener of that group.)The other committee, on “realignment” of the school district, is to study the districts that send students to various schools in Manchester as well as other educational issues.So, at least on inauguration day, positive feelings, bi-partisan vibes and optimism prevailed. Everyone involved hoped that this feeling would continue and a new day was dawning in Manchester government.However, no one was counting on it as a sure thing!
Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.