On the trail again

I don’t get to cover the presidential primary much with all there is to do at City Hall, but I try my hardest to cover candidates when they head downtown. Usually, it’s a guided tour from the mayor, who knows the friendly shops and half the people walking down the street. On this tour, I was joined by about a dozen reporters and photographers, including a New York Times reporter who chatted me up. That’s a pretty big gaggle for a hokey August photo op, but this year’s presidential primary couldn’t get any more boring, or at least it was up until this point. Huntsman did alright. He was actually engaging, not just glossing over when the man-on-the-street talked to him. And he spent about 20 minutes in the City Year HQ, which showed me he actually liked the idea of people helping others. There were also no gaffes. A major triumph on the trail.

Gatsas keeps Huntsman waiting, makes no commitment

If you’re a political candidate looking to gain ground in Manchester, you could do worse than to get a guided tour from Mayor Ted Gatsas.

But when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman showed up for a walk down Elm Street with Gatsas last Wednesday, the mayor was nowhere to be found. Huntsman played it cool, heading up the stairs of City Hall to wait in the comfort of the mayor’s office. The New York Times pointed out Gatsas’ late arrival, noting he appeared a little sheepish when he rolled up in his white Mercedes-Benz.

“I was at the Kiwanis luncheon,” Gatsas told us.

After a 10-minute confab, the mayor and Huntsman emerged from City Hall. A gaggle of 15 reporters and photographers swarmed the Republican presidential candidate, and Gatsas lunged out of the way of the media members’ lenses and microphones.

Huntsman spoke about the race in general — “Polls don’t matter until the fall” — and retail politics — “We’re here meeting folks … This is how it’s done in New Hampshire” — and then he was off to meet and greet.

Huntsman spoke with a man gobbling down a slice outside of Tedy J’s and popped into the City Year offices to talk about the work the corps members will do in schools this coming year. Huntsman even took a moment to chat up another political candidate, this one running for Ward 3 moderator. Moses Sawyer, who had previously served as a poll worker in Portland, Maine, stopped with an armful of groceries to talk to the governor. The conversation ended with a soft commitment of support on both men’s part.

“I’ll follow your campaign if you follow mine,” offered Huntsman.

Sawyer agreed, vigorously shaking Huntsman’s hand.

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The Elm Streeet walk got Huntsman some face time with Manchester residents, but did it land him the biggest endorsement in the city government? The last Elm Street walk the mayor took with a political candidate was with congressional candidate Sean Mahoney, someone Gatsas strongly supported in the Republican primary. But last week, Gatsas was still playing hard to get.

“I’m not committed to any candidate as of yet,” he said.

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One of the tax cap changes heading to a public hearing is whether to use a three-year average of the U.S. Consumer Price Index to determine the maximum percentage the aldermen could increase the tax rate. The way the cap is written, the maximum percentage will be based on the CPI from the previous calendar year.

A charter amendment is headed to a public hearing that would limit a tax rate increase instead to a three-year average of the CPI.

Proponents of using the average argue that in bad economic years, the CPI’s effect on the tax rate would be more gradual than that caused by a sudden dip, but city Finance Director Bill Sanders pointed out in a memo to the aldermen last week that the law of averages works both ways.

According to Sanders, the current three-year average is 1.66 percent, just a bit above last year’s CPI of 1.6 percent. The 2011 CPI is now about 3 percent.

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The city will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed changes to the ward borders crafted by the city’s Redistricting Committee, the Highway Department and the Planning and Community Development Department. If the changes were adopted, they would go into effect Jan. 1.

This could pose a problem.

Nearly all 12 wards would see a slight adjustment in their borders, but the most controversial change would be in Wards 11 and 12. Shifting residents on the southern end of Ward 12 to Ward 11 would displace some of the wards’ selectmen.

If a selectman elected in November did not live within the readjusted ward borders set in January, that selectman could not serve.

At Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, former Alderman Armand Forrest spoke out against the plan, and Alderman Patrick Arnold voted against it.

“I understand (the committee) did their job, but it doesn’t mean I need to be content with the results,” said Arnold.

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Ward 6 is the cleanest ward? According to data put together by the Highway Department it is. A summary of the city’s solid waste violations put together for the aldermen last week shows Ward 6 had no violations in fiscal year 2011, down from 15 violations in 2008. It just barely beat out Ward 1, which had one violation, down from 23 in 2008. These violations include litter on vacant properties, improper disposal of trash and abandoned refrigerators.

The most violations were in Ward 5, with 168, followed by Wards 11 and 4, respectively. Most of the violations were at multi-unit residences and for failing to keep the property free of litter. Ward 5 has improved its record, though, down from 305 violations in 2008.

The Highway Department credits the decline in solid waste violations across the city to its constant monitoring for illegal trash and debris, work largely done by Brad Moore, solid waste compliance officer.

By driving through city neighborhoods looking for violations instead of waiting for a complaint, he has eliminated problems quickly, he said.

– – – – – – –

Former mayor Bob Baines will be honored on Saturday at a ceremony at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium for the official dedication of Robert A. Baines Way.

The ceremony is at 2 p.m. and is open to the public.

The circular street in front of the ballpark was renamed after Baines by the aldermen last year and is part of an ongoing effort to recognize all of the former living mayors in Manchester.

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