LACONIA — By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Laconia’s wards were experiencing a near-record voter turnout — more like a governor’s race than a city election, according to ward monitors at Leavitt Park Club House, the Laconia Middle School, and the Beane Conference Center.
Afternoon voters, including many retirees, said they chose the next mayor according to his political views and personality characteristics they considered crucial for the city’s next top executive.
Peter Spanos’ supporters overwhelmingly cited his stance against making Laconia a sanctuary city, commitment to fiscal responsibility and spending containment and business growth as reasons for picking him for the city’s top office.
Andrew Hosmer’s fans championed his well-spoken performance in debate, and attention to local issues such as not allowing the WOW Trail to course though Southdown Shores, a gated community where many middle-aged and older residents said they’re worried about maintaining their privacy.
After a morning rush, wards experienced a steady flow.
“It could be a record for a city election, 496 votes and it’s not four o’clock,” said Ward 3 Monitor Pat Wood. “It’s a number that’s closer to a statewide election. It’s not a presidential turnout. It’s more like a gubernatorial race,” with voting steady after a two-hour crush when polls first opened at 8 a.m.
Outside the middle school, Daniel DiTommaso held a Hosmer campaign sign. “The more people who vote, it’s great. It’s worse when only five to 10 percent of the people make the decisions in an election.”
This is the first contested mayoral race in the Lake City in six years.
“The last couple of years have been lackadaisical,” said Walt Costa, holding a Spanos sign.
The higher participation rate “is good for the city, and good for everyone,” said Mike Bordes, also holding placard for Spanos outside the voter entrance at Ward 3.
All voters interviewed said they based their mayoral choice on the candidate’s abilities and positions, gleaned from articles in The Laconia Daily Sun and the candidates’ debate. Most felt strongly about their choice — no last-minute waffling.
Daniel Donahue, who voted at Ward 3, said containing spending was one of the primary reasons he voted for Peter Spanos. “We need to stay within our means.”
Paul Stewart, also at Ward 3, voted for Andrew Hosmer, saying, “I like a someone who’s a moderate and locally oriented, who has spent time on local issues, dealing with local issues, rather than fictitious issues. It’s really important to continue to revitalize downtown.”
The Colonial Theater has been vacant for years and renovations have been a “huge multi-million dollar expense,” he said, but the multipurpose venue with a beautiful vintage interior will draw host theater productions and touring musicians — a high cost with a valuable result.
Some of Hosmer's supporters, including people who know him personally or worked for the same car dealership, said they liked him personally. Ellen Peters said it was a hard choice between the candidates, but “I just decided who I wanted for social reasons,” and picked Hosmer based on personality.
Catherine Holt said she voted for Hosmer because he expressed himself better in the candidates’ debate at the Belknap Mill.
Janet Hillis, a Hosmer backer, said no single issue influenced her decision. “I just like every town government to start working for the common good. I’d like to have egos take a vacation, and a leader to be humble enough to realize their responsibility as a leader.”
June Bixby, an accountant, said she voted for Hosmer because she received a lot of his flyers and, as a Democrat, she wanted to vote for a Democrat.
“For me, it’s the importance of public schools. It’s important to provide enough funding for schools. I’d rather see money go to schools than to a lot of other things.”
Sally Wyman voted for Hosmer because “I wanted fresh blood to look at the city. I think it has a lot to offer that’s not been capitalized on. I wanted someone with progressive ideas,” who would help develop Laconia’s retail potential, especially as a magnet for young adults who want to stay in the area, but relocate “where there’s more to do.”
Susan Gilchrist said she picked Hosmer because he’s against the WOW Trail going through Southdown Shores. “We’d have no more privacy. There would be no way to protect our community.”
For some Spanos supporters, Hosmer’s personality and perceived liberalism was a negative — and Spanos’ budget-conscious conservatism was a plus. Laconia’s potential for becoming a sanctuary city remained very much a hot-button issue for them.
“The question of sanctuary cities, that was number one” among reasons Brenda Dearborn said she voted for Peter Spanos. “I’m for legal immigration, not illegal immigration. The city’s too small. We have plenty of other issues. It will ruin our property values.” Dearborn said the City Council and Planning Board need to work better to encourage new business development and relocation to Laconia.
“It’s been like pulling teeth to get a new business in and operating.”
Terry Monaghan, who recently moved to Atlanta after living in Laconia for 14 years, said she came back to campaign for Peter Spanos, a friend, because she’s opposed to Laconia becoming a sanctuary city, and is a proponent of fiscal restraint and keeping a lid on government hiring.
“I’m a CPA. We need to keep it in budget. You can’t employ people, then let them go when you find out you can’t afford it,” said Monaghan, who held a Spanos sign outside the Leavitt Park clubhouse, the scene of Ward 6 voting.
Winston Savage, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, said, “Sanctuary cities are not appropriate for Laconia. They’re also against federal law.”
Gil Gross of Lakeport, also a Spanos supporter, said honesty and reliability were key to his choice, as was completing the revitalization of Laconia and Lakeport.
“We need someone who’s going to go with the people, not what they want. The city’s on the verge of something good, and we need someone reliable to bring it across the finish line.”
Marc Joyal of Lakeport said he picked Spanos because their views aligned.
“I liked his stances on fiscal responsibility, keeping taxes reasonable and using the money wisely. We also need to attend to the city’s deterioration and homeless problem.”
Bobbie Evans of Laconia, also a Spanos supporter, voted at the Beane Conference Center on Blueberry Lane. She said the candidate's personality and ability to get along with others were part of her decision.
“This is Live Free or Die. In the past, [Hosmer] has been a little too dictatorial — It’s my way or the highway."
Her husband, Mike Evans, voted for Spanos, though he felt neither candidate was perfect.
“I wanted to vote for someone who’s conservative and would do a better job representing my views. I believed Spanos was more capable of listening to the electorate and following through.”