The missed opportunity of the WT comment

So many things to say about this column. First, it is tagged under “War on Terror” on the Union Leader website. Wha? Then there are the accusations that I’m too liberal because I raised the point that Manchester has a lot of poor people and perhaps people should pay more attention to who gets the Welfare Commissioner job. And there’s this whole white trash comment. I really wanted this controversy to be an opportunity to discuss the WT term. I know people who refer to themselves as WT, who call others WT, but I wonder how different it is when the term is used against you, or against someone close to you. Does the term have the same sting and cause offense like other terms that call people out for being poor?

Race for welfare commissioner should focus on those served

NOW THAT Joe Briggs is out of the alderman at-large race, it looks like the most exciting contest on the city primary ballot is for welfare commissioner.

Seriously.

Former Alderman Peter Sullivan came out swinging early in the race when he accused current Commissioner Paul Martineau of treating the poor with scorn. Martineau came right back at Sullivan, dismissing outright Sullivan’s claims and pointing to his own record of keeping down costs.

Then Martineau’s former employee, Diane Guimond, entered the race.

Guimond began working at the Welfare Department under the previous commissioner, Susan Lafond. She served as deputy welfare commissioner under Martineau until she left the post on less-than-agreeable terms. She said she understood his efforts to control costs, “but I thought he could have been nicer about it.”

That’s about as harsh as Guimond will get when it comes to criticizing her previous boss. She’d rather focus on how to do things better. The Welfare Department needs to better communicate with state and federal leaders, she said, and talk to the public about the work the office does and who uses its services.

“It’s not just immigrants. It’s the working poor getting poorer and the middle class afraid of becoming working poor,” said Guimond. “We need to show some compassion and respect to the people walking through the door.”

It was compassion and respect that drove the race’s fourth candidate, Jean Davis, to run.

Davis, who has worked in the social services both professionally and as a volunteer, said that on her first trip into the office, she was taken aback.

“I’d never ever seen such mean-spiritedness and lack of professionalism,” she said, referring to the way the clients were treated. If elected, Davis said, she would foster a culture of compassion in the office, work to create partnerships with local businesses and try to instill an attitude of self-reliance among the clients.

While it’s clear these three challengers intend to run a tough campaign and Martineau will not shy away from defending himself, this race should be about more than just slinging barbs and which party lands the win on Election Day.

In a city where nearly 40 percent of students participate in free- or reduced-price lunch programs because their parents make only slightly more than the poverty level; and where low-income housing is controversial; and where the strain on local social services and a lack of clean, inexpensive housing has in part led the aldermen to request a moratorium on refugees resettlement, it’s time the people have a conversation about the poor.

When Briggs took to the local airwaves on Wednesday and apologized for the “white trash” remark he made on the previous week’s “Will & Joe Show,’’ Briggs said he wanted to put his words into context. To be fair, here is the bulk of what Briggs said:

“It’s not just refugees and immigrants (who use low-income housing). It’s a lot of people, in part young women, who find themselves in a perpetual cycle of welfare and dependencies and using their womb to qualify for services from the state and the federal government. Welfare mothers who don’t have husbands, who get pregnant as a way — that’s their professional plan. I use the word ‘white trash’ in a limited way to refer to people who would do such a thing.”

Briggs went on to say: “When a bunch of mothers are there at Weston (Elementary School) waiting to pick up their kids and some woman comes traipsing up with a big smile on her face saying, ‘Hey, I just came back from the doctor. I’m getting a raise.’ That really sinks the hearts of the people who are struggling to make ends meet. To me that’s trash.”

The aldermen aren’t expected to take up selling the naming rights to the new municipal complex until September, but they can count out one bidder right now.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said he has no plans to submit a bid that would allow him to select the name of the public works and police complex.
Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo will be hosting a ward meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 30, to discuss a proposal to put a state liquor store on Granite Street. The meeting comes after Greazzo and other aldermen objected to taking steps toward leasing city-owned land off of Interstate 293 across from the Elks Lodge to the state for a liquor store.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Elks Lodge on Granite Street.

Fans of Chris Herbert came through for the mayoral candidate last week. Board of School Committee candidate and education advocate Kathy Staub held a fundraiser at her home on Wednesday evening for Herbert, and the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association held a fundraiser for Herbert on Thursday evening at its union offices on Sheffield Road.

The city’s Republican candidates are looking to get a boost from the presidential primary. The Manchester Republican Committee will hold a city candidate fundraiser and presidential straw poll at Theo’s Restaurant next Sunday. The cook-out will kick off at noon. Buttons costing $30 will get you lunch and a vote in the straw poll. The committee is also looking for event sponsors who will offer donations in the range of $500 for a “Ward” sponsorship and $2,000 for a “Mayor” sponsorship.

The Manchester Professional Firefighters Association raised $7,000 at an event this month to help the 13 union members laid off during the recent budget cuts. The event was also held to recognize the aldermen who voted against the budget.

Union contracts don’t expire until 2013, but city unions and candidates are already thinking about it. It’s the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen that will steer the negotiations, so expect this issue to be a major factor in the campaign.

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