LACONIA — All four of the candidates seeking election to replace the late District One Executive Councilor Ray Burton had a meet and greet Friday morning with members of the Belknap County Economic Development Council.
Burton died Nov. 13, less than nine months after he announced that he had kidney cancer, A moderate Republican from Bath, Burton was a North Country icon who was first elected to the council in 1976 and, after he lost a 1978 primary when Governor Meldrim Thomson backed his opponent, won 16 straight elections, often with only token opposition.
The three Republicans, former Belknap County Commissioner Chris Boothby of Meredith, former state Sen. Joe Kenney, of Wakefield, and former congressional aide Mark Aldrich, of Lebanon will face off in a primary on January 21 to decide who will be on the ballot for the GOP in the March 11 special election opposing Grafton County Commissioner Michael Cryans,of Hanover., the sole Democratic candidate.
All four candidates agreed that it will be difficult to fill Burton' shoes but pledged to emulate Burton's tradition of close ties to the communities in the sprawling district, which encompasses 108 towns and four cities and more than half of the state's land area.
Sean Sullivan, chairman of the BEDC board of directors, outlined for the candidates the initiatives which the organization is involved in, including workforce development, lending programs for small businesses and educational initiatives for high tech manufacturing.
Boothby, 47, who along with his wife operates Boothby Therapy Services in Laconia, served for 12 years as Belknap County Commissioner, worked as an executive for LRGHealthcare and is president of the board of directors of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse.
He said that the key to economic development for the northern part of the state is quality education, good health care and good roads, along with a cultural enrichment environment which helps provide a high quality of life.
Kenney, who grew up in Wakefield and graduated from Spaulding High School in Rochester went on to attend UNH and spent 33 years in the Marine Corps. He served four terms in the House and three terms in the N.H. Senate. In 2006 he was the GOP nominee for governor and lost to Democrat John Lynch, winning less than 30 percent of the vote.
He praised the economic development plan developed by the Lakes Region Planning Commission for the area and said that those who support his candidacy know that it is rooted in traditional New Hampshire values,
Mark Aldrich, 64, was state director for former U.S. Sens. Gordon Humphrey and Bob Smith for 20 years and has headed up economic development efforts in Claremont. He said that his experience in dealing with a myriad of state and federal agencies will help him be a strong advocate for programs that benefit his constituents.
Cryans, 62, lives in Hanover but grew up in Littleton and served 16 years on the Grafton County Commission with Burton, who endorsed him over his GOP opponent in 2012.
He said that Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Hithcock Medical Center serve as economic engines for the Upper Valley area and that it is important to remember that there are other parts of the council district which are really struggling and need attention.