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.
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.