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LGBTQ candidates win big in Somersworth
6th November, 04:30SOMERSWORTH -- The Hilltop City earned its other nickname as the Rainbow City Tuesday, electing more LBGTQ candidates to major municipal posts.
Somersworth also was the only city in the Seacoast to approve a ballot question asking whether residents were in favor of allowing sports betting locations in the community. Dover and Rochester voters rejected sports betting ballot questions in those communities.
"We are the most rainbowiest we've ever been," said local business owner and activist Emmett Soldati, who hosted an election night celebration at Teatotaller, his cafe on High Street that hosts LBGTQ events and entertainment.
Matt Gerding, a gay man and newcomer to the City Council at-large race, narrowly won his seat with 588 votes in unofficial tallies. He edged out longtime local politician Denis Messier, who received 565.
Gerding's husband, Coty Donohue, won an at-large seat on the School Board as the second-highest vote-getter in that race with 736.
Other winners in the at-large council race include newcomer and top vote-getter Crystal Paradis, 815; and incumbents Nancie Cameron, 695, and David Witham, 615.
Paradis credited hard work with her big showing. She said she and other activists, including Gerding, knocked on a lot of doors in the city to get the word out and encourage people to vote.
Their activism appeared to work. Turnout in Ward 1, for instance, was up 40%, according to Paradis' figures, and Soldati noted Ward 1 election officials ran out of ballots and had to get more during voting on Tuesday.
Soldati said the city had more voters than ever taking part in Tuesday's election, with 1,342 ballots cast, compared to 988 in 2017.
Incumbent School Board member and transgender activist Gerri Cannon, a state representative, overwhelmingly won re-election to the board and was the top vote-getter in the five-way race for four seats. Cannon tallied 768 votes. Other winners besides Cannon and Donohue are Ed Levasseur, 688, and Steven Potter, 635.
Mayor Dana Hilliard, who is openly gay, was unopposed for re-election and will be starting his fourth term as the top leader in the city. "I'm very excited and humbled by the support," Hilliard said Tuesday night. "In the past six years, we've been celebrating each other and our differences," he said, referring to Somersworth as "the Welcoming City."
Hilliard said he welcomes newcomers Paradis and Gerding to the City Council and looks forward to "rolling up his sleeves" for the good of the city. Among projects Hilliard hopes to work on this term are downtown renovations that include a proposed Little Indonesia area. The city is home to several thousand Indonesian residents. Hilliard also wants to see the creation of the city's Veterans Park, which is getting close to a groundbreaking, he said.
Hilliard credited the council's team approach for getting things done and hopes new council members will embrace that approach.
Hilliard said he was disheartened that partisan politics crept into Somersworth elections this year. Local elections are supposed to be non-partisan, he said, but young Democrats were very active during the campaign season working on behalf of some City Council and School Board candidates.
"I want to make sure that moving forward a lesson is learned," Hilliard said of partisanship in local elections. Hilliard, a Democrat, described himself as a non-partisan mayor, noting he supported Deputy Mayor David Witham and would do it again. Witham is a Republican.
Hilliard also had high praise for Republican City Councilor Dale Sprague, who lost his at-large bid Tuesday night. Hilliard thanked Sprague for his public service and said Sprague was instrumental in securing funding for the Somersworth Career and Technical Center at the high school.
Paradis, Gerding and Soldati disagreed that partisan politics had hurt the election. They said help from young Democrats was a plus for voter turnout.
"If people are worried that the Democrats are getting the city energized, they also need to see that we got people to care about the city in a way that hasn't happened before," Soldati said.
In other election results, Marty Pepin defeated Dan DeSantis in Ward 1, the only contested ward race for City Council. Other ward candidates were unopposed including: Kenneth Vincent, Ward 2; Marty Dumont, Ward 3; Don Austin, Ward 4; and Richard Michaud, Ward 5.
In contested ward School Board races, Todd Marsh defeated Nicholas Boyle for the Ward 4 seat 205 to 52, while Thomas McCallion won a tight race over Ken Bolduc, 84 to 79 for the Ward 5 seat. Ward 1 candidate Maggie Larson, Ward 2 candidate Matthew Hanlon and Ward 3 candidates John O'Brien all ran unopposed.
Somersworth voters also endorsed sports betting voting in favor of a ballot question asking citizens if they would allow it. The unofficial tally was 647 in favor and 579 opposed. New Hampshire became the ninth state to legalize sports betting earlier this year when Gov. Chris Sununu signed House Bill 480, which legalizes betting on pro sports and most Division I college sports, excluding games involving New Hampshire schools.
The bill allows the state Lottery Commission to regulate, through a new Division of Sports Betting, up to 10 total licenses for physical sports book locations across the state, within either new or existing retail operations. It also allows for up to five licenses for online betting.
The wagering is projected to produce an estimated $7.5 million for education in fiscal year 2021 and $13.5 million two years later. A portion of the funds will also be used to support problem gaming education, prevention and treatment.
Somersworth's approval of the ballot question won't guarantee the city will have one of the 10 physical locations. Rather, the question is designed as a way to tell prospective entities applying for the state's licenses that Somersworth would welcome their business if they were interested in running a legal sports book there.