Grab a front-row seat and enjoy the show.
New Hampshire politics generally is known for its charm and earnestness. Think of town hall meetings, engaged voters challenging presidential candidates about issues at the town dump and frugal budget writers at the Statehouse. But Manchester's political world is in almost a different universe altogether with its wacky, parochial, eye-rolling politics.
This is not the traditional big-city machine politics of Boston, Providence or Philadelphia. Manchester is too provincial and the money involved is too small. Granted, compared to the state, Manchester's economy, dominant statewide media organizations and transportation infrastructure are the closest thing the state knows of a cosmopolitan center. But Manchester is remarkable for its local political characters with their petty fights and long-standing grudges.
"We are one big dysfunctional family," says state Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, a longtime Manchester resident.
For most of the state's cities it is an election year, and in Manchester it is almost guaranteed to be entertaining. It certainly hasn't disappointed before. Consider these recent events:
The local Republican committee held a fundraiser at a shooting range. The head of the committee told the press "... the thought just struck me one day: a machine gun shoot. What the heck?"
A Democratic alderwoman, who is related to higher-ups at the city's conservative newspaper and married to a well-known Republican, is facing charges she assaulted an employee. She is resigning and moving to Bedford.
One of the city's state representatives tried to derail his former roommate's advancement in politics by accusing him of once possessing child pornography. After weeks of statewide coverage, a state attorney general's investigation found there was nothing to the claim except politics.
Of course, Manchester doesn't have a monopoly when it comes to insular, or just plain weird, political debates. Cities like Concord, Nashua and Portsmouth certainly have their own versions of the local gadflies. In Dover one man sued the city so often that he eventually just ran- and won - a seat on the city council.
But Manchester has a way of eating its own with a passion that is unparalleled. Part of this is fueled by the city's media outlets, most notably the lively cable access channel: MCAM. Part of it is an outgrowth of the immigrant and ethnic enclaves that make up the city's past. And there's no doubt that the pugnacious piling on of the Union Leader in its heyday set a local tone for the bombastic.
What happens in Manchester politically matters statewide. Manchester has nearly 10 percent of the state's population and some of Manchester's local politicians have more name recognition and have raised more money than most state senators. Yet the city's politics stunt political ambitions. No Manchester politician has been elected to a position higher than executive councilor in 15 years. In most cases being from Manchester was a liability.
It is in this context that current mayor Frank Guinta is trying to buck history in his recently-announced Congressional run. Guinta will tout his record as mayor. Among the facts of his record will be this: he is leaving behind the first wide-open race for Manchester mayor since 1987.
The circus will remain in town. NH
This article appears in the August 2008 issue of New Hampshire Magazine