Refugees, absentee reps and voter rolls

Refugee issues dominated the week’s news and got the commenters’ fingers wagging.

Gatsas stands firm on refugee moratorium

Mayor Ted Gatsas has declared war on the International Institute of New England.

The refugee resettlement agency has long been criticized by city officials for a lack of communication as to when and how many refugees are headed to Manchester each year. The aldermen asked for a moratorium last week, and Gatsas said on Friday he would not meet with International Institute officials until after they have withdrawn their application to bring more refugees to the city.

The moratorium comes on the heels of a tough and contentious budget year in which city social service agencies were staring down deep cuts. This strain on services seemed like a reason to slow the influx of people who are most likely to need them, but it’s not just new refugees who would need these services, it’s the ones who are already here. Twenty-six refugee families were in the city welfare office two weeks ago looking for help after their state rental assistance was cut off.

But Gatsas said the moratorium was not about the money, “it’s about the people and the refugees themselves.”

There were four aldermen on Tuesday who voted against the moratorium. Three were upset because no exception would be made to allow refugee family members still overseas to come join their relatives in Manchester. Alderman Patrick Arnold tried to attach the exception through a “friendly amendment,” which has been used in past aldermen meetings as a slight alteration of a motion’s language, not an official amendment that required a vote. Gatsas didn’t see it that way. When Arnold asked the city solicitor whether a vote really was needed, Gatsas cut him off.

“Yes. I rule as the chair,” he said. The solicitor confirmed: Yes, the mayor does set the parliamentary rules. The amendment passed, 9-4, but didn’t have enough votes to override the mayor’s veto.

Alderman Garth Corriveau voted against the moratorium not because of the family exception, but because he wanted to wait until the city had more information about the resettlement process.

“We’ve been waiting 10 years for that information,” said Gatsas. If the aldermen want to send a message, he added, they need to vote now. Corriveau dismissed this now-or-never logic.

“We say that all the time in this city, but I want to make the most informed vote I can,” said Corriveau.


THE LAST TIME the city had a moratorium was in 2004 after 34 refugee children tested positive for lead poisoning. That moratorium was for 90 days, which was deemed long enough for the city to address lead paint problems in refugee housing. If the goal of this moratorium was to allow time for the refugees now here to find work, learn English and settle into the community, how long should this moratorium last?

“(Until) refugees here feel comfortable where they’re at,” said Gatsas.

If that’s the case, the moratorium could last quite awhile.


CHRIS HERBERT HASN’T always been a Democrat. In fact, the likely mayoral candidate was a registered Republican for 37 years. When news emerged last week that Herbert might run against Mayor Ted Gatsas in the upcoming city elections, questions about Herbert’s party affiliation were raised in the newsroom. Herbert confirmed he switched to the Democratic Party about six years ago, saying there was a shift in Republican Party values, not his.

“I’ve always been a moderate,” said Herbert.


MARK MacKENZIE HAS had enough of his state representative, Thomas Beattie. Last week, MacKenzie asked the West Side Republican to step down.

“According to the attached list of roll call votes, you only attended three session days and you left early on two of those days,” MacKenzie wrote in a recent letter to Beattie. “When you signed up to run for office, you affirmed that you intended to serve your constituents. Attending only parts of three out of 18 sessions is abysmal.”

MacKenzie, who also serves as the president of the NHAFL-CIO, said he has not heard from Beattie.

Repeated calls from the New Hampshire Union Leader to Beattie last week went directly to voice mail.


MANCHESTER IS 11,000 voters lighter after the City Clerk’s Office voter checklist purge. State law requires cities and towns to remove from the rolls the names of those residents who have not cast a ballot in any election in the previous four years.

Manchester had until Sept. 1 to get this done, but the work was completed in May. On June 2, the Board of Registrars verified and certified the checklist, making Manchester one of the first cities in the state to complete the checklist verification process and submit certification to the New Hampshire secretary of state.

Heading into city election season, there are 19,231 Democrats; 14,927 Republicans; and 18,274 undeclared, totaling 52,432 registered voters in Manchester.


MAYOR GATSAS came up just shy of the fund-raising goal for his campaign kickoff event last month. He aimed to raise $100,000, but the campaign finance paperwork filed last week declared the event brought in more than $99,000. Gatsas said he plans to officially file for office first thing Monday morning.


THE CITY ELECTION filing period begins on Monday. Residents will have until July 22 to get their candidate petitions and filing fees to the City Clerk’s Office. Running for office, especially the first time, can be a daunting experience. To help make it easier, the clerk’s office has posted a “Candidates Guide” on its website, The site has information on how to file for office, required forms and upcoming deadlines.

Come election time, the site will also be a place residents can go for answers on registering to vote, absentee ballots and polling places.


WHEN LIONEL Washington Johnson first came to Manchester, he was housed in segregated barracks as part of a Black Unit of the Army Air Corps. In the decades that followed, Johnson ran a dry-cleaning business, founded the Manchester Branch of the NAACP, was a founding member of the Greater Manchester Black Scholarship Foundation, served on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and was a state representative for eight terms, serving until his death in 2004 at the age of 81. It was during his time in the state House that Johnson was instrumental in the 1999 establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in New Hampshire.

On July 16, Johnson will be inducted into the NAACP’s New England Civil Rights Hall of Fame during its fourth annual Hall of Fame Dinner in Boston. The honor, which has also been awarded to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, is given to leaders throughout New England who have furthered democracy through their advocacy for fairness, justice and equal opportunity.

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