NASHUA TELEGRAPH: Gatsas thrives on personal touch

By Kathy Marchocki

NASHUA – Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas touts the science programs he launched in public schools with the help of inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen and the tough deals he cuts with health insurance carriers and utilities to get the best rates for the state’s largest city.

But the most rewarding part of Republican mayor’s job? Touching people’s lives.

“The biggest thing (is when) parents say to me, ‘Mayor, you can’t believe the change you made in my son or daughter by those letters you sent,’ ” Gatsas said of the roughly 4,000 letters he personally signs that go out to every sixth to 12th grade student who makes the honor roll.

Now in his fourth term as mayor, Gatsas jokes that his aides wonder if he will continue the practice if he wins the race to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan this fall.

Making a difference in people’s lives in something Gatsas said he takes seriously as mayor.

When a friend called to say her brother was in the basement with three hypodermic needles and the often-deadly narcotic fentanyl, Gatsas said he went over.

“I got the young man. Put him in my car and drove him down to the Hope for Recovery on a Saturday night,” the mayor said.

“I’ve lived (in Manchester) all my life. I understand when somebody is calling for help … Just referring them to somebody else doesn’t get the job done,” he said during a recent meeting with the editorial board of The Telegraph of Nashua.

Gatsas is vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against District 3 Executive Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields; state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a three-term senator from Meredith and current chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; and first-term state Rep. Frank Edelblut of Wilton.

District 2 Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, former deputy Secretary of State Mark Connolly and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand are vying for the Democratic nomination with two other candidates.

The primary is Sept. 13.

“I’m the only candidate in the race that has business, legislative and executive experience. I’m the only one who has done it,” Gatsas said of his credentials for the corner office.

With a campaign slogan of “Keep it simple. Get it done,” Gatsas is running on a platform that focuses on economic and workforce development, reducing energy and health care costs, and tackling the opioid and heroin epidemic.

Gatsas’ plan for education includes restoring what he said has been the loss of parental control of their children’s education and the erosion of local school board control to state and federal regulations.
If elected, he said he would replace New Hampshire Education Commissioner Virginia Barry with someone who had parental choice and local control “in the forefront of their mind.”

Gatsas and his brother co-founded and ran Staffing Network, an employee- leasing company that later was acquired by ADP Payroll. A former city alderman, Gatas was a state senator from 2000-09, during which time he served as the chamber’s president and minority leader.

Gatsas announced his Granite Growth Agenda economic plan in Nashua earlier this month with former Nashua mayor Bernie Streeter, businessman George Katis, and former Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Chris Williams at this side.

Gatsas’ campaign reported Thursday that more than 100 business leaders statewide have endorsed his plan, which calls for tax relief for families, businesses and municipalities, lower energy costs, job training and workforce development, increased competition and access to health care, and investment in the state’s infrastructure.

To that end, Gatsas said he would ensure 30 percent of the hydroelectric power that the proposed Northern Pass project would carry through New Hampshire would stay here and be available at lower costs to New Hampshire residents and businesses.

He said also that he would veto any state budget that downshifts further costs from the state to municipalities, but he stopped short of supporting a bill that would reduce what municipalities must pay the state retirement system in pension contributions.

“I don’t ever make presumptions on legislation in Concord until you can read it,” he said, yet added, “I think it’s absolutely worth looking at.”

He chided opponent Sununu’s plan to visit 100 business in first 100 days in office.

“I’m not waiting until I get elected to (meet with) businesses,” he said. Gatsas suggested the new governor would make better use of that time preparing his or her first budget.

Manchester is the largest city in northern New England with an estimated 110,000 residents, about 3,500 employees and a nearly $310 million annual budget, according to Gatsas and U.S. Census Bureau data.

Gatsas said the city was the first in the state to convert its streetlights to energy-efficient LED bulbs at an annual savings of $400,000. He said the city saved $1 million in the first year it offered spouses of city employees $4,000 to opt out of the city’s health plan – a practice he said he would extend to the more than 20,000 state employees if elected governor.

Gatsas said he would oppose expanding commuter rail to Nashua, Manchester and Concord until he is shown a plan that details precisely the time tables, ridership and costs.

“Show me the plan,” he said. “Tell me what the costs are going to be and I’ll tell you if it makes sense or not.”

Gatsas’ plan to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic includes declaring the crisis a public health emergency, requiring prescribers to participate in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, and charging those caught selling fentanyl with attempted murder and murder if the sale directly resulted in a death.

He also calls for increased education, prevention, treatment, recovery and support for law enforcement.

Gatsas said he would not support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

“We are in an opioid epidemic. The people I talk to tell me that’s the gateway drug,” he explained.

On abortion, Gatsas is pro-choice, but opposes taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, use of the morning-after pill by minors and partial-birth abortion and supports parental notification, campaign spokesman Nate Lamb said.

Gatsas seriously explored a run for governor in 2014 and his name was raised as a potential candidate in several earlier races.

“There were still things I had to complete at the city … I wanted to make sure we had a solid foundation for the city,” Gatsas said of his decision against a 2014 run.

“I can tell you somebody from above must have been watching down on me. If I had taken that race (with) the condition my heart was in, I probably wouldn’t have concluded because I had six bypasses,” he said of the April, 2014 surgery, noting he was back to work in two weeks.

Gatsas said he and his wife, Cassandra, were on a drive when she said to him: “I think it’s time.

“I knew what she meant because she understands that I have a love for the state and I have a love for finding solutions for problems,” he added.

Asked if he intends to self-fund his campaign, Gatsas said: “We’ve raised most of the money right now. I’ve not put a nickel of my money (in) at this point. I’m not saying I wouldn’t. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”

(From Nashua Telegraph, Page A1 on August 13, 2016)