Published DateLACONIA —City Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2), who has served as either a councilor or as mayor for 18 of the past 22 years as is, almost unarguably, the most accomplished Laconia political figure of the past 25 years announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election in November.
"I'm a goal-oriented person," Lahey explained yesterday. "I want a target, an objective to be achieved." He said that he expects the future of the former Laconia State School property, which he has sought to position the city to acquire, will be determined before the year is out and sees no other major initiative on the horizon.
"Things are in good shape — our facilities, finances and so on," he said, "so it's a good time to step down." He said "what I really want to see is the next generation, the 30 and 40 year-olds, step up."
Although he could not foresee ever returning to elected office, Lahey said that should the city have an opportunity to develop the state school site or a performing arts center or pursue some similar project he would want to participate.
Lahey was first returned to the council in 1991, in the last partisan election held in the city. Lahey was one of three Democrats matched with three Republicans on the so-called "Unity" ticket, capped by mayoral candidate Paul Fitzgerald, assembled to challenge the "Straight Arrow" slate that held the council majority for two years. Lahey topped Ray Reed by a vote of 505 to 167 in Ward 2. He served two terms on the council followed by three as mayor before leaving City Hall.
During the next four years Lahey served on the school building committee, which planned for the construction of a new middle school and high school. He began his second stint as mayor in 2006, when at its inauguration the newly elected city council resolved to build the middle school. After two terms Lahey stepped down as mayor, but in 2010 with the expansion and renovation of the Huot Technical Center and the acquisition of the former Laconia State School property high on the agenda rejoined the council, again representing Ward 2.
Lahey said that his first terms as a councilor were spent restoring stability and confidence to city government after the "Straight Arrow" majority sowed controversy and dissension. As mayor his tenure was dominated by the effort to create the Lakes Region Business Park in partnership with the Town of Gilford and seeking compensation from the state for its failure to close the Lakes Region Facility (prison) as promised.
With City Manager Dan McKeever and State Senator Leo Fraser, Lahey spent many days in Concord negotiating concessions from the state, of which the Robbie Mills Sports Complex. He recalled that after reaching a deal after a long day of talks, he and McKeever returned to the city and were sharing some refreshments when Governor Jeanne Shaheen called. "When she explained the arrangement in terms different than those we understood, I had strong words with the governor." Shortly afterwards Lahey had breakfast with Shaheen's Attorney General Phil McLaughlin, his former law partner, and confessed "I think I had a bad conversation with the governor. Phil said 'yes, I've heard all about it." Lahey said that when the complex was dedicated and opened Shaheen turned to him to say "so Matt, these fields look pretty good after all," as if to remind him that she had not forgotten their conversation.
The Middle School was designed and built during Lahey's second spell as mayor. At the same time, the school funding issue overshadowed the 2008 state elections, when Republican Jim Fitzgerald, Lahey's high school football coach and close personal friend, ran against Democrat Kathy Sgambati of Tilton. Fitzgerald, who favored amending the constitution to limit the state's responsibility for funding education, was crestfallen when Lahey endorsed his opponent. "It was very difficult for me," Lahey said. "I spoke about it with Phil McLaughlin, who reminded me that as mayor I had to serve the best interest of the city. Nothing would have been worse than an amendment, " he continued, "because $6-million or $8-million in state aid could have disappeared very quickly."
Lahey said that the breach with Fitzgerald has since been healed.
Lahey's last to terms as a city councilor have been consumed by the expansion of the Huot Technical Center, renovation of the high school and construction of new playing fields. Apart from shepherding the project through the City Council, Lahey has been in the forefront of the capital campaign to raise private funds, which by augmenting the construction budget will ensure that the finished product matches the original vision.
"I was thinking when I was first elected Elizabeth, our oldest daughter, was in seventh grade," Lahey said. "Since then she finished elementary school, middle school and high school, four years of college and two years of law school and has been practicing law for three years. It's been a long time."
Lahey said he had no regrets, stressing that the people he met as well as served and worked with represented the greatest reward from his career as a public official.