City leaders at a recent meeting include Councilor Ava Doyle (left), Councilor David Bownes, Councilor Henry Lipman, Mayor Ed Engler, Councilor Brenda Baer, Councilor Robert Hamel and Councilor Armand Bolduc. A primary election will be held Tuesday involving City Council races. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A produce purchasing manager, a barber, an electronics repairman, a real estate agent and a retired state executive will be facing longtime city councilors in primary election races Tuesday.
Many of the challengers have spoken generally about the need for fresh faces on the City Council, but issue-oriented specifics have been in short supply during a quiet campaign.
Mayor Ed Engler, Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman and Ward 5 Councilor Robert Hamel face no competition. Ward 6 Councilor Armand Bolduc is being challenged by restaurateur Reuben Bassett, but since there are only two candidates in that race, there is no need for a primary.
• Ward 1, where Bruce Cheney, Michael Foote and Susan Hodgkins are seeking to succeed Ava Doyle, who is not seeking re-election.
• Ward 2, where Councilor David Bownes is facing two opponents, Richard Beaudoin and Leonard Miner.
• Ward 4, where Breanna Henderson and Mark Haynes are trying to unseat Councilor Brenda Baer.
The general election is Nov. 7.
After seven years of representing Ward 1, Ava Doyle, 61, says she's ready to move on and feels the position “needs a new set of eyes.”
The ward takes in most of the northern part of the city, including The Weirs, where she and her husband own a cottage colony. The area is in transition, with completion this year of a $4.3 million project to improve Lakeside Avenue and the recent announcement that The Weirs Drive-In Theater was being sold to make way for condominiums and commercial development.
Seeking to replace her is Bruce Cheney, 74, a former Laconia police chief and the man largely responsible for developing the state's 911 system.
The former director of the state Division of Emergency Services and Communications in the Public Safety Department retired in December. He lives on a 55-acre farm off Pickerel Pond Road, where he raises miniature horses.
Cheney said he doesn't have a specific agenda and doesn't oppose growth, but wants to “maintain the Laconia we have all known for decades.”
Michael Foote, 57, who has been a member of the Laconia Zoning Board of Adjustment for five years, is also running for the post. He has managed a 260-acre family farm for the past 20 years.
Foote sees Laconia as being “on the edge of a growth period,” and said the challenge will be to expand in a way that will include commercial development that will support higher-paying jobs.
One issue that has been on the front burner in the ward and in the city in general is the question of whether to extend the public WOW Trail through a railroad corridor from the path's current terminus in the Lakeport area to The Weirs, and ultimately to Meredith.
Some homeowners who live along the proposed extension object to the project, saying they would lose privacy, trail users might trespass or cause other problems and fencing separating the trail from railroad tracks would disrupt views and access.
Foote supports the proposed trail extension as a way of establishing links that connect disparate parts of the city and link the city to its neighbors.
The third candidate in Ward 1 is Keller-Williams real estate agent Susan Hodgkins.
Hodgkins, 58, said she stands ready to bring “new energy and ideas to our city.”
“Having a fresh approach with a solution-based mindset, I will bring about positive change for a challenging economic environment; in the crisis we face as a community of addiction; the quality of our education and administration and the needs of every resident we serve,” she said.
In Ward 2, City Councilor David Bownes, 68, who worked as a stage actor before going to law school, predicted the renovation of the Colonial Theatre and a decision on what to do with the city's dilapidated downtown parking garage will be two big issues the City Council will face in the coming term.
He has been a fierce opponent of investing more money to improve the existing garage. A previous proposal he backed to tear it down and build a new one failed to gain traction. Complicating the whole issue is the fact that the ground floor of the garage is privately owned.
“I don't know how to solve the problem,” he said. “I have to think that through. The solution involves getting rid of the remaining elephant in the downtown. The downtown parking garage needs to go.”
Richard Beaudoin, 73, who owns an electronics repair shop in Laconia, is challenging Bownes. He has run for this position several times in the past and said he doesn’t have a particular agenda.
“I believe in taking one problem at a time and in not going around making a bunch of promises you don’t keep,” he said.
He also said there’s “always room for improvement,” but feels the current City Council is doing “a fairly good job.”
The other candidate in Ward 2 is Leonard Miner, 48, a produce purchasing manager and a member of the Laconia Board of Assessors.
He said he has “nothing against the councilors” but that he would “like to be a part of the solution” for issues of concern in the city. “There is a need for new people on the City Council.”
Incumbent Councilor Brenda Baer said she wants to protect the interest of residents and work within a property tax cap that limits increases to a formula based on increases in the national Consumer Price Index (urban) and the value of new building permits minus demolitions.
"There is an organized group that would like to replace this council along with the tax cap," said Baer, 90.
"They want to spend, not for the good of the city, but for their own agendas. Spend without thinking how it affects the lives of the young, the old, the poor and the middle class."
Ward 4 takes in part of downtown, the lower Winnisquam shore, the “South End” and Briarcrest Estates.
Baer has been advocating the addition of a patrol officer to walk a beat in the downtown area.
She is being challenged by Breanna Henderson, 29, who owns a popular downtown barber shop, Polished and Proper, and is a fixture in the audience at City Council meetings.
Henderson sees needs for improvements in schools and economic development, and wonders whether the property tax cap has outlived its usefulness. She also said the city needs to do a better job of marketing itself.
“Times have changed,” she said. “Do we still need that cap if we want to foster the growth that needs to occur in the city over the next 10 to 20 years?”
She said she believes in getting thoroughly educated from all perspectives on an issue before deciding on a course of action.
“I am not in the practice of making decisions with only half the story,” she said. “I am offering logic and reason to solve problems, not agendas or sides of the aisle.”
Mark Haynes, 69, facilities manager of the Laconia Clinic and the Ward 4 moderator, is also running against Baer. Like her, he favors the tax cap.
“I believe then and now it is a necessary budgeting tool,” he said. “I appreciate the work of past councils in building and remodeling city schools as well as construction of new police and fire department buildings all within the constraints of the cap.
“I support the present services the city offers, but understand fully that in these changing times we must be creative and stay on the cutting edge of technology to be competitive.”
Voting hours and locations on Tuesday, Sept. 12:
Laconia, Ward 1: The Beane Conference Center, 35 Blueberry Lane., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Laconia, Ward 2: St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall, 12 Gilford Ave., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Laconia, Ward 3: Laconia Middle School, 150 McGrath St., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Laconia, Ward 4: New Covenant Christian Church, 31 Lindsay Court, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Laconia, Ward 5: Woodland Heights Elementary School, 225 Winter St, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Laconia, Ward 6: Leavitt Park Clubhouse, 334 Elm St., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.