LACONIA — The contest for the City Council in Ward 2 features two unique candidates, Richard Beaudoin, who over the course of 35 years has acquired a reputation of being able to fix virtually anything electrical in the shop behind his home on Manchester Street, and David Bownes, an attorney and actor as well known for his performances in front of the footlights as in front of the bench.
Bownes served as a councilor at-large in from 1986 to 1988, when the council had nine members. He said that with no children still living at home, "It's about time I did something around here except go to meetings and complain." A mainstay of the Streetcar Company and Winnipesaukee Playhouse, he has been long been active in the cultural community and in 2011 was a member of the committee convened to explore acquiring and reopening the Colonial Theater.
In light of its central position and deteriorating condition, the theater, Bownes said, "is a problem in and of itself." He said that purchasing, restoring and operating the venue is "almost cost prohibitive," while suggesting that steps might be taken to improve the commercial and residential spaces attached to the auditorium.
Bownes said that "there are no looming issues facing the city," though he expected the pace of improving roads to continue and the central fire station to be renovated and expanded. Echoing other candidates, he expressed concern about the city's aging population and stressed the need to draw young families to the communities. To that end he said, "There are lots reasons to be optimistic about what we've done with the schools," referring to the renovation of the elementary schools, construction of the Middle School and expansion of the Huot Regional Technical Education Center. "That is going to make a huge difference." With the buildings in sound condition, Bownes said that "doing something to improve the performance of the schools" should be a priority.
"The most pressing issue," Bownes said, "is economic development. There really is a need to provide opportunities for employment." At the same time, he asked "how are we going to deal with it? We have to ask what do we want Laconia to be in 20 years," he remarked. He noted that the redevelopment of the Allen-Rogers property and the opening of several new restaurants downtown is promising, but confessed "I'm still looking for solutions. We need to think outside the box in terms of downtown."
"I've always enjoyed politics," Bownes remarked. "I think I can offer a reasonably intelligent voice and contribute, add to the discussion about where Laconia is going."
Beaudoin, with three write-in votes in the primary, earned a spot on the ballot in 2011, but lost in the general election to Matt Lahey, whose retirement prompted him to run again this year. "I think the city needs help," he said flatly. "We keep going over the same things again and again and coming up with the same answers."
'We've got to get industry back here," Beaudoin declared, observing that although his business is small, he regularly receives e-mails encouraging him to move his operation to another state or city. "We should advertise," he said. He found the recent investments in the Huot Center and Lakes Region Community College encouraging. "90-percent of what goes on at the industrial park is basically machining or advanced manufacturing," he said. "You've got to have bodies, skilled bodies."
Beaudoin said that the revitalization of downtown depends on attracting industry and increasing employment. "Get the factories, get the people and then get retail stores," he said, describing the mix of downtown retailers as tilted toward second-hand and consignment shops and "not really very attractive."
The Weirs, Beaudoin said, should become a year around destination in order to put waterfront property to its highest and best use. "There's a big difference between a two-a-half month bump in the economy and 12 months," he said. "The state is looking for a place to put a casino. That would bring the people in."
Beaudoin is opposed to a "Pay-As-You-Throw" program of trash collection and prefers the mandatory recycling program that began in July. "People are doing their best," he said, adding that the city should have provided toters free of charge. While he would like to see the city acquire the former Laconia State School property, he said "we shouldn't pay more than $1," explaining that the cost of addressing contamination on the site will run into the millions.
Bownes said that he has distributed signs and knocked on doors, but Beaudoin admitted "I haven't been doing a heck of a lot. I thought about signs, but being very frugal, or just plain cheap, and most people feel the same way I do about people knocking on their doors."