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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Ben Clemons talks with The Telegraph editorial board Tuesday, October 18, 2011.
  • 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 Bob Hammerstrom

    Alderman Brian McCarthy talks with The Telegraph Editorial Board Thursday, October 20, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Daniel Richardson talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Thursday, October 27, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    Fred Teeboom talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Tuesday, October 11, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Lori Wilshire talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Tuesday, October 25, 2011.

    Watch the interview or read the transcript of Lori Wilshire interview with The Telegraph's Editorial Board
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Alderman race at center stage in Nashua on Election Day

NASHUA - The alderman-at-large race is the big drawing card on a ballot with no contest in its top race and not much else to excite Nashua voters.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau will seek a second term without opposition, the first uncontested mayoral race in Nashua in 64 years. Meanwhile, the Board of Education has five candidates for five soon-to-open citywide seats.

And while most ward alderman races are competitive, three wards have incumbents running alone.

So, all betting money, figuratively speaking, will be placed on the alderman-at-large contest, as six candidates with board experience fight it out for three four-year terms.

Three incumbents - Ben Clemons, Brian McCarthy and Lori Wilshire - aim to keep their positions.

Two former aldermen - Daniel Richardson and Fred Teeboom - want to serve again.

And a former mayor who was also an alderman decades ago - Jim Donchess - wants to revisit city politics after a 20-year absence.

By late evening on Election Day, Nov. 8, residents will learn how this top-of-the-ticket race shakes out, and can then start guessing about the dynamic of the next Board of Aldermen.

And it may be unwise to pigeonhole any of the six candidates into big-box categories. Even though they all have voting histories as aldermen, they say they recognize the fresh challenges caused by a continuing sluggish economy.

The top three vote recipients will take office as the city looks to complete two big projects: acquiring Pennichuck Corp. and its water utility for $152 million - as well as assuming the company's $60 million debt - and starting construction on the Broad Street Parkway.

Here's how they stand on the issues, in alphabetical order.

Ben Clemons

Just 25 when he was elected to his first term four years ago, Clemons earned the trust of his colleagues by serving as the board's vice president for the last two years. He is the son of Jane Clemons, a former state representative, and Michael Clemons, a former Nashua Board of Education member.

Ben Clemons wants the city to forge ahead with buying Pennichuck Corp. and building the parkway while trying to make Nashua attractive to industry for when the economy rebounds.

Nashua missed its chance to have the big attraction destinations that Manchester and Lowell, Mass., landed with their sports stadiums and arenas, Clemons said. So, the city should focus on developing a brand name and making conditions favorable for new businesses, he said.

"We need to find our own voice," he said. "We need to find a way to attract new companies and people."

Clemons also doesn't think it's too late to make Nashua culturally appealing, and he wants to study the idea of building an arts center.

This year, Clemons sponsored an ordinance that's part of a two-pronged approach to restructuring downtown parking and improving the downtown aesthetic.

His plan, starting in 2013, would have any annual parking revenue above $728,000 - the approximate amount now collected each year - earmarked for infrastructure and beautification work in the downtown proper, covering Main Street and its side streets.

Clemons said the plan is the best alternative for generating money to making the downtown more attractive.

He opposes cuts to the police overtime budget and fire operations, and also said the city should examine running its own ambulance service to generate revenue.

Jim Donchess

Donchess was mayor from 1984-91 and was an alderman-at-large from 1977-81. He was widely thought to be laying the groundwork for a mayoral campaign this year.

Donchess talks of "back to basics" governing: keeping police, fire and education strong while reviewing all other city services for inefficiencies and potential cuts.

Donchess opposes the Pennichuck deal, saying that without seeing the predicted costs of operating the water utility, the city hasn't fully revealed how obligations will be paid.

Also, the city borrowing $37.6 million to construct the parkway will cost as much as $4 million annually, and no one in government has publicly discussed where that money will come from, Donchess said.

He wants to put the project on hold until the federal government offers more funding. Nashua has already accepted $14 million in federal funding for the parkway.

"It's either raise taxes or cut fire, schools or police, and to me, neither of those are acceptable," he said.

Donchess points to how in 1987, during his tenure as mayor, Money Magazine chose Nashua as the best place to live in America. (Nashua won that honor again 10 years later after Donchess had left office.)

He wants Nashua to reclaim its standing as a top city, he said, by strengthening education and safety.

Although the Police Department has a full roster of officers, they're unable to make a dent in crime without the overtime that Lozeau and aldermen have cut the last two years, he said.

Brian McCarthy

McCarthy, the board president and an alderman for 18 years, wants to follow through on projects such as the parkway and Pennichuck while also trying to attract business.

He said he couldn't be happier about the Pennichuck deal. With bond rates lower than officials had expected, ratepayers will ultimately benefit from city ownership of the water supply, he said.

And the parkway will attract businesses to the Millyard Technology Park, as well as relieve traffic congestion downtown, by creating a third crossing of the Nashua River, he said.

As another example of potential growth, McCarthy said the city has talked about creating a research-industry collaborative on unused land off Spit Brook Road. The city also needs to continue locating the right kind of speciality goods and service retailers to make the downtown successful, he said.

Nashua can't forget it has a river downtown, he said, and needs to further open access to the water to boost commerce, he said.

McCarthy sponsored the other half of the recent parking plan, with an ordinance that increases the cost of metered parking and decreases the time allowed in spaces to encourage turnover and improve business.

As for board politics, McCarthy said aldermen have often focused on small concerns that matter little to residents.

For instance, during a meeting years ago when aldermen spent 40 minutes debating a stop sign, he said a colleague turned to him and asked, "You know, tonight, Manchester is discussing a $200 million river project."

But McCarthy said the board has passed more significant legislation in the last two years under his leadership than any other recent time.

Daniel Richardson

Richardson was Ward 3 alderman for one term from 2006-07, and lost a bid for an alderman-at-large position in November 2007.

If elected, Richardson said last week he would follow his philosophy of voting against measures "if I don't have enough information to say it's right." He said he's a data-driven person who will ask many tough questions.

Richardson said most aldermen act as a rubber stamp for Lozeau, voting for measures and not asking enough probing questions. He said he has heard Lozeau has made it difficult for aldermen to obtain information because she blocks access to city staff.

Richardson said he wants to review city services more closely to find inefficiencies. He doesn't favor raising taxes in a recession, and said he doesn't like to lay off anyone. But, "When things get tough, you have to get tough," he said.

Richardson doesn't oppose the Pennichuck purchase, but he said the city will be "paying for kind of a mess," in large part because most of the developable land the company owned in Nashua has been sold for commercial use.

Also, he finds fault with the city using general obligation bonds to finance the acquisition. He said with the approval of bond counsel and aldermen, excess borrowed money for Pennichuck could be used for unrelated projects, which he said would be unfair to ratepayers.

Richardson also disagrees with the stated purpose of the Broad Street Parkway, contending the city has no written obligations from companies to establish in the Millyard and that Library Hill traffic won't improve because parkway traffic will flow into the Tree Streets neighborhood.

He says bringing jobs to Nashua will be his priority. As part of that goal, he said the city's Office of Economic Development needs to identify the types of businesses that will succeed in Nashua and recruit them aggressively.

Fred Teeboom

Teeboom was an alderman-at-large from 1994-96 - resigning before his four-year term ended - and from 2006-10. He didn't seek re-election after the more recent term, but he said he decided to run now because the current board "is not being active."

Many aldermen aren't asking detailed questions and don't have the fiscal acumen to dig deep into complex issues such as the merger agreement between Pennichuck and the city, Teeboom said.

Teeboom was the only individual to file with the state Public Utilities Commission as an intervener in the city-Pennichuck merger. But he and several other parties - including Anheuser-Busch and the Merrimack Valley Regional Water District - recently signed a settlement allowing for the deal to proceed.

Teeboom said he signed "somewhat reluctantly," but that the agreement is the "best balancing of what the PUC wants to do, what ratepayers want it to cost ... and it protects taxpayers."

Still, Teeboom rails against the handling of the acquisition by aldermen and Lozeau, faulting them for not disclosing sooner that Pennichuck had a purchase-and-sales agreement with a developer for a Concord Street parcel that has upset residents.

Teeboom supports the Broad Street Parkway, and says the city is moving too slowly in constructing it.

During the campaign, Teeboom has also continued to discuss his view that public schools need a drastic makeover.

Teeboom has long criticized the city's granting of a teachers union contract in 2008, saying teachers received large pay increases that ultimately put the school budget into a deficit.

Now, Teeboom said his biggest regret as alderman was voting for the contract, adding he did so because "I got intimidated into marching down that street" by the union. (Unionized teachers threatened to strike if a new accord wasn't approved.)

Lori Wilshire

Wilshire was Ward 7 alderman from 1998-2005 before losing a re-election bid. She came back to win an at-large seat, which she has held since 2008.

Wilshire believes the city has struck a great deal to acquire Pennichuck, and that ratepayers will benefit by the second year of city ownership, she said. She also backs the Broad Street Parkway.

Aside from the city continuing to attract companies and create local jobs, Nashua needs to stifle crime, Wilshire said. Crime isn't necessarily worse, but the type of crime - such as the recent fatal stabbing of an EMT who lived in Nashua and a separate brawl on Central Street - has become disturbing and affects quality of life, she said.

Wilshire objects to Lozeau cutting the Police Department's overtime budget by $1 million over the last two years. Police service eventually suffers when officers can't work beyond normal shifts, she said.

"Most people are willing to take a small tax increase to be safer," she said of spending more on overtime.

She also credits the city's nonprofit organizations for helping feed and provide essential health services to homeless and mentally ill people.

Wilshire is a member and former chairwoman of the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care, one of the many organizations she says has spent $1.6 million annually to support the homeless and poor.

And Wilshire said she wouldn't mind seeing education spending increase, because public schools are the most important service a city can offer. She was a product of Nashua schools, as were her children and now her grandchildren.

"I don't mean the sky's the limit," Wilshire said of a school budget. But "as much as needed ... whatever it takes to deliver an adequate education."

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.