Mayor Ted Gatsas skipped the second meeting of the Special Committee on Alcohol, Other Drugs and Youth Services dedicated to finding solutions to the heroin crisis. His absence was in sharp contrast to the inaugural Special Committee meeting called to tackle the crisis on August 3, which Gatsas took over to announce his own 60-day war on drugs program.
During the second meeting held on September 23, fifty-one days into the 60-day program, the mayor was seen standing in the anteroom of his office. The Mayor’s Office is adjacent to the chambers of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen where the Special Committee meeting took place. If Gatsas had taken approximately ten steps to enter the chamber, he would have heard grim news, such as how the heroin and drug trade is so strong, dealers not only don’t fight with one another, they send prospective clients on to a competitor if they are out of a desired drug. Gatsas also would have heard how the national press has portrayed the Queen City in a negative light, as an example of a city crippled by the heroin crisis and drug trafficking.
Approximately a quarter hour after Gatsas was spotted in his office, Special Committee Chair Bill Barry told of an Auburn woman who had agreed to participate in a documentary being made by Manchester Public Television. She had agreed to participate in the documentary in the interest of “stopping the dying.” Ironically, since Gatsas announced his heroin policy, drug overdoses and deaths have continued unabated.
At the initial meeting of the Special Committee, Gatsas’s appearance was covered by City Hall columnist Paul Feely of the New Hampshire Union Leader and radio talk show host Rich Girard, both of whom trumpeted the news of Gatsas’ new drug policy. Neither Feely or Girard attended the second meeting.
If Mayor Gatsas had attended the meeting, he would have heard Aldermen Barbara Shaw inform the Special Committee about her concern with the negative perceptions people now had of Manchester due to the drug crisis, and her belief that something needed to be done to counter it. After speaking of the need for the City to publicize the positive things being done to combat drugs, she told of her shock upon finding out that people attending her high school reunion thought the Queen City was on the skids.
“I had the most shocking thing happen Friday night,” she said. “It was shocking enough to be going to my 55th high school reunion, but I had people who came there who had come from different parts of the country, from Pennsylvania and Jersey, and the first question they would say to me, is ‘Wow, Manchester has really gone downhill, right?’”
This negative perception did not go down well with Alderman Shaw. She answered them, “No, we’re doing all we can. We have a problem and we’re dealing with it.”
Making sense of their negative comments, Shaw told the Special Committee, “I guess they heard on programs like Bill O’Reilly calling Manchester ‘The Gritty City’.” Shaw believes that out-of-state journalists who have come to Manchester to cover the presidential candidates have developed a negative view of the Queen City after reading the newspapers and talking to people on the streets.
“They can be saying positive things, because we are doing positive things,” Shaw said. “And Manchester is still a good city.”
She concluded her remarks with an observation on how the City government has failed to put a proper spin on attempts to combat the drug crisis. “I have an issue with not accentuating the positive.”
Chairman Bill Barry praised Shaw’s remarks, saying that the Special Committee meetings could help counter that negative perception, as it is dedicated to advising the public on the Manchester’s war on drugs. Barry said that the people battling heroin and other drugs “are not Superman” and that the Special Committee, Police Chief Nick Willard, and others must join together if their efforts are to be successful.
An expert in establishing neighborhood watches to combat crime. “All of us combined are not going to do it alone,” Barry said. “We need to work together.”
A reflective Barry said, “I’ve lived in Manchester all my life. Manchester is a community about helping each other. I really have a positive faith that we will come together and we will tackle this problem. I think we can make a good job of it and we will do a good job. The police have done a terrific job and we just need to keep working together.”
A member of the audience, informed that Mayor Gatsas was otherwise engaged in his office during the meeting, wasn’t surprised. “Ted Gatsas was a second-string player at UNH who spent his entire college football career sitting on the bench,” he said. “It’s too bad he could never learn to be a team player.”