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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    James Donchess talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Wednesday, October 5, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    James Donchess talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Wednesday, October 5, 2011.
Thursday, October 6, 2011

Donchess seeking alderman-at-large with eye to present

Transcript of Jim Donchess' editorial board interview with The Telegraph

Jim Donchess wants to focus on the present, not on the past.

His candidacy for one of Nashua’s three open alderman-at-large seats, he says, is “based on what I can offer voters now; not what I did 20 years ago.”

But emphasizing the present over the past is a delicate line to walk for an experienced candidate, especially one with two terms as mayor under his belt.

On Wednesday, for instance, Donchess proposed giving the city Police Department more resources to combat crime in the downtown neighborhood known as the Tree Streets.

Those resources include increasing the department’s overtime budget to give officers flexibility on the job, particularly more patrols in that neighborhood by the Problem Oriented Policing unit, Donchess said in an editorial board interview with The Telegraph.

But to illustrate the results of feet-on-the-ground policing, Donchess pointed to how, as mayor, he helped combat a crime wave in the French Hill neighborhood in 1988. Drug dealing and murders prompted more police foot patrols, housing code enforcement and federal foreclosure of properties and eventually a safer neighborhood, he said.

“We have to do this in the Tree Streets,” Donchess said.

To be fair, The Telegraph editorial board also asked Donchess questions about his leadership as mayor, from 1984-91. But the past had a way of becoming a reference point in several of Donchess’ explanations about his campaign platform.

“We need to get back to basics. We need to focus on our core mission,” he said.

For Donchess, that mission includes “a common sense approach to government.” Education, police and fire should be kept strong, but other services need to be reviewed as the city tries to operate in a weak economy, he said.

If the city needs to cut its budget further than it did this year, Donchess said, the CitiStat department – which, among other duties, analyzes the performance of city services – “isn’t necessary.” Also, the emergency management department duplicates the efforts of the police and fire departments, he said.

Donchess also voiced his opposition to the construction of the Broad Street Parkway, which, after years of delay, started this summer with ancillary road work and Millyard Technology Park building renovations.

The city’s $37.6 million bonding of the project will cost as much as $4 million annually, and no one in government has publicly discussed where that money will come from, Donchess said. “It’s either raise taxes or cut fire, schools or police, and to me, neither of those are acceptable,” he said.

Donchess suggested putting the project – which will provide a third traffic crossing of Nashua River and a gateway to the Millyard – on hold until more federal funding could become available.

“I’m not convinced it’s going to add jobs,” he said. The most beneficial project for the Millyard was the creation of Clocktower Apartments when Donchess was mayor, he said.

Touching on the past again, Donchess said education and emergency services have felt the brunt of budget cuts lately, but when he was mayor, Nashua had “good schools and was a safe city.”

“When I was mayor, Nashua was the best place to live in America,” he said, referring to Money Magazine’s ranking of the city in 1987. Nashua won that honor again 10 years later when Donchess had left office.

Donchess said he wasn’t implying that Nashua no longer has good schools, but a level-funded budget from the city this year and less federal funding has affected classrooms and teacher morale with the loss of paraprofessionals and books.

“We want these kids to compete and get to college,” he said. “It’s not going to strengthen society” by cutting education funding, he said.

Donchess also voiced his opposition to the city’s purchase of Pennichuck Corp. for about $200 million, a deal that awaits state regulatory approval.

“The deal made by the city is not good for ratepayers,” Donchess said. “But we’re now in a binding contract. I still haven’t seen the budget. I don’t know how things will be paid for.”

Moreover, the city is “spending $200 million to save the watershed” but the watershed will be developed by the time Nashua acquires Pennichuck, he said.

“The city could have driven a hard bargain,” Donchess said. City officials could have asked for undeveloped parcels to remain untouched when negotiating with Pennichuck, he said.

A group of residents and some city officials have objected to Pennichuck being on the verge of selling land off Concord Street for the future development of an elderly housing project. City planners approved the project, which appears to be the last undeveloped tract of land owned by Pennichuck in Nashua.

Donchess said if he was an alderman, “The land deal wouldn’t have happened.”

He added that while mayor, the city passed, through a voter referendum partially prompted by his efforts, the establishment of watershed protection areas, Donchess said. Aldermen refused to take this action, so Donchess and residents worked together to preserve the watershed, he said.

Asked after the interview about the extent of commercial development of Pennichuck property while he was mayor, Donchess said, “The developments that have been closer to the ponds had not occurred yet.”

Records of Pennichuck land deals from Donchess’ tenure as mayor nonetheless show that the company was selling and developing property in Nashua – away from the supply ponds but within the larger 26-square-mile Pennichuck Brook watershed.

Beginning in 1985, Donchess’ predecessor as mayor, Maurice Arel, started, in his new role as Pennichuck CEO, selling off 1,500 acres of the utility’s land. Among the Pennichuck-related developments that broke ground during Donchess’ time as mayor were Southwood Corporate Park and housing complexes such as Brinton’s Landing and Harris Preserve.

Donchess is one of six candidates for alderman-at-large seats that will open next year. The other candidates are the three incumbents – Ben Clemons, Brian McCarthy and Lori Wilshire – and former alderman-at-large Fred Teeboom and former Ward 3 Alderman Daniel Richardson.

Donchess said he can improve the board through his “strong record” as mayor and alderman. He said he understands the budget and can work with every philosophical faction on the non-partisan board.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or Alsoo check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.