“Keep it simple. Get it done.” That's the slogan Republican Ted Gatsas is using in his campaign for governor. It’s a theme the Manchester Mayor has turned to time and time again throughout his political career.
In fact, when Gatsas kicked off his campaign for governor, his twenty minute speech used that phrase seven times, after each policy proposal.
This idea of simplicity comes up a lot with Gatsas.
He says a leader’s job, for example, is to find problems and fix them. Campaigning doesn’t have to be flashy – you meet voters and tell them where you stand. And while many politicians have relied on a well-crafted biography as a campaign tool, the Ted Gatsas is short and to the point.
“I was just a Greek kid from the East Side, and never ever thought I was going to be here,” Gatsas says during a conversation at Cremeland, Manchester’s drive-in ice cream stand. “My brother and I started a company, we sold it… Manchester’s been great to my family and I so it was just about looking at, can we give something back."
The lifelong Manchester resident and UNH graduate founded Staffing Network in 1987 with his brother Michael. The company handled payroll, workers compensation and other regulatory issues for businesses, eventually growing to some 4,000 employees before the brothers sold the firm for $40 million in stock.
Gatsas then launched into politics, spending a decade as a Manchester alderman and state senator, and the last five years as mayor. In each job, he’s characterized himself as a hands-on problem solver, with no issue too small to earn his involvement. Like police radios, for instance."
“Motorola -- they were the low bidders," says Gatsas, explaining a recent contract negotiation. "They were at about $7.3 million. After they came to the mayor’s office we ended up doing it for somewhere around $5.5 million. There are advantages when you sit down and you negotiate and read the contracts and work a little harder at getting something that’s a better deal.”
Gatsas has also called himself an advocate for taxpayers; he’s calling for a constitutional amendment to ban a personal state income tax and has supported Manchester’s tax cap.
But while proposals like these are solidly Republican, supporters say Gatsas isn’t an ideologue who looks to place himself in one wing of the party or another.
“If he's from a wing it's from the old fashioned way of let's get it done,” says former State Senator Bob Clegg, who worked with Gatsas at the Statehouse and is backing his bid for the corner office. “Ted appeals to all those people who are tired of driving down roads with a lot of potholes and blame other politicians. That's not Ted. Ted is the type who say let's sit in the room and say to everybody, how do we get this so it works?”
Gatsas even used that person-to-person approach to his advantage in the Senate, when he was on the outs with party leaders and his office was far from the corridors of power.
“The Senate President at the time put Ted's basement office right across from the cafeteria,” Clegg recalls. “Everybody goes to the cafeteria. So he actually made Ted Gatsas the most informed Senator, because people never missed the opportunity to grab the ear of a Senator.”
After five more years in the Senate, including a year as Senate President, Gatsas won his first term as mayor of Manchester, again stressing a problem-solving approach to public service.
That said, Manchester politics can be contentious, and Gatsas is often at the center of the action. Critics say the mayor’s sometimes combative approach hurts more than it helps.
“You always hear the ‘my way or the highway' term associated with his name and I would agree with that,” says former alderwoman Joyce Craig, a Democrat. She challenged Gatsas in the 2015 mayoral election, which the incumbent won by just 64 votes.
Critics also argue Gatsas has found savings on police radios, but on big issues – like the city’s schools and the opioid crisis – he’s come up short.
When asked if he could have done more on these issues, Gatsas brings up his push to start the Manchester School of Technology as well as the STEAM Ahead Program, a partnership between city schools and tech businesses.
On opioids, Gatsas says he was speaking out about the problem long before the rest of the state took notice. And he says Manchester has developed creative solutions to the problem, like the new initiative called Safe Stations.
Whether Gatsas duplicates any of his Manchester programs statewide of course depends on whether he wins the GOP’s contested primary for governor. And, it should be noted, he’s won every election he’s ever run in.
When reminded of this, Gatsas bangs his fist on the table in front of him. “That’s me knocking on wood,” he says.
Republican voters will decide whether that streak holds this September.