Political Legacy

Lou D’Allesandro reflects on a five-decade career

Illustration by Peter Noonan

I write about politics for a living, and given that no one alive has actively sought or held New Hampshire political office for longer than Lou D’Allesandro, I always cherish chances to gain insight when we have a moment together.

Over nearly two decades, I estimate I’ve talked with him about 100 times, but one conversation that took place years ago sticks in my mind. Knocking back a cranberry juice at an upscale bar in Boston, D’Allesandro went on an impassioned plea, saying that “all politics is about relationships.”

On some level, his argument is, of course, true. In his book “The Origins of Political Order,” political theorist Francis Fukuyama determines that politics from the earliest days was organized in concentric circles. First, there’s family, then community, nearby communities, etc. But looking at American politics as relationship-based doesn’t explain how we got today’s incredibly unpopular US Congress nor why Donald Trump is in the White House.

Politics today is less and less about relationships and more about ideology and money. There is less incentive for a candidate to go door to door because few people are home. True, a politician needs some sort of relationship with a voter, but lately voters are rewarding a more distanced relationship, even in our state that prides itself on retail politics. The smart politician goes to where the voters actually “live” — serving up Facebook ads on their phones. Entertaining candidates are rewarded with attention, while candidates who are substantive get overlooked.

In May, D’Allesandro released a memoir called “The Lion of the New Hampshire Senate.” And, yes, he does make the argument that politics is really the artform of relationships. There is even an entire chapter titled “Relationship Politics.”

Written with Mark Bodanza, the book covers his upbringing in East Boston, his education at boarding schools, his athletic career, his first unsuccessful run for state representative in 1970, his two runs for governor, his changing parties and his role as a presidential kingmaker.

Anyone who loves a good political backstory would enjoy the read. His written voice makes you feel as though you’re right there with us at that Boston bar ordering another round of cranberry juice. The twist in all of this is that while he decries the partisanship of the current era, the picture he paints of New Hampshire politics in the 1970s and 1980s is extremely partisan. He talks about how he was basically purged from the Republican Party due to vicious attacks from the once-powerful Union Leader, which dubbed him “Liberal Lou.”

Back in the day, he maintained deep personal relationships with the likes of former governor Walter Peterson and then-US senator Warren Rudman, while at the same time practicing politics that tried to reshape the party into his own image.

Now approaching 50 years since he first ran for office, it’s unclear how much longer D’Allesandro will continue in elected office. He ponders his legacy in his memoir, and I ponder it every time I attend a major Democratic Party function when he is introduced.
“LOOOUUU,” the crowd proclaims so loudly that the person addressing the crowd must make it clear to the untrained ear they didn’t hear “boo.”

It’s in that moment where D’Allesandro’s life mantra is on display: a deep adoring relationship with an entire room of political players, one that has gone on for decades.

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