Republican George Hansel narrowly beat out Democrat Mitchell Greenwald for Keene’s open mayoral seat on Tuesday.
Hansel, a 33-year-old businessman, hopes to grow Keene’s economy, establish a comprehensive housing plan, and work to stabilize the city’s tax rate.
Hansel sat down with NHPR's Peter Biello to discuss his plans for the city.
So you're a businessman. What made you want to get into politics?
I originally got into local government on the Conservation Commission in Keene, and I was curious how we could reconcile the need for growth, the need for development, and the need for open space in the rural character of a place like Keene. That was seven years ago. That led to the planning board, which led to the city council. I served on the city council for four years and now as mayor.
And we should describe for listeners you don't know, you're in the business of water.
Cooling water, purifying water. We make industrial equipment, industrial water coolers for all kinds of applications, and water filtration equipment.
And you're a big advocate of city water?
I am a big advocate of city water and Keene has award winning city water.
That that was gonna be my next question. How's the water in Keene? So it's pretty good you would say?
Very good and plentiful. We have plenty of water. We're very, very fortunate.
So as mayor, you'll start on January 1st. What would you like to accomplish as mayor?
We really have to tackle housing. It was something I campaigned hard on and I heard from a lot of people. We need to make sure that the housing stock matches the needs of the people that are in Keene, but also the needs of the people we're trying to attract.
So what are the needs of the people in Keene, housing-wise?
Higher quality housing. Keene has a lot of older housing stock that really hasn't been renovated or fixed up in a way. I've lost so many friends who have moved out again just because they couldn't find a suitable place to live. That's going to change. We have to figure out how these statewide initiatives apply in Keene, because Keene has some unique challenges. Like I said, we have older housing stock. We don't have a ton of available land for big housing development projects. So we have to come up with some right-sized solutions just for Keene.
Any sense on what one of those solutions might be? Something you put before the council?
A weatherization program and renovation program utilizing creative financing is going to be really important. My background, a little bit, is in commercial development. The way we put together a large commercial development projects, we use a lot of different incentives and creative financing to make them happen and make them go. My challenge over the next year or so is to figure out how can we do this for a single or two family home in Keene? How can we take a lot of little incentives from different places and add them up to a big one that will make a big difference for a family just starting out or a new homeowner?
This race was not a partisan race, though you are a Republican and Keene is traditionally among the most liberal places in the state. How do you plan to work with those who may have different political views than you?
I'm working hard for the people at Keene. You know, the partisanship thing didn't come into it for me. We're a rural community. We're a small city, and we're somewhat separated from the axis of power over here in Concord, Portsmouth and Manchester. We need to come together as a rural community and advocate for our needs. So I'm going to be doing that. I've been doing that as a counselor and as a member of various statewide boards and commissions. That's the important thing. And for people in Keene, the partisanship, it's not really doing anything for us. We need to be unified in advocating for our rural community.
This election also yielded four new councilors in Keene. What about this new council do you think will help you make change?
Well, having the fresh perspective is really critical. Traditionally, this Keene City Council has been dominated by people that have been there for a long time. There wasn't a lot of turnover, frankly. And when I was first elected four years ago, I was one of the youngest in a long, long time. In the last election, two years ago, we had another young person step in and get elected who is younger than I am. This last one is really interesting because we have four great people who are younger but bring new ideas, different experience... and that's really going to be valuable because I see one of the primary roles of city council is to bring those new ideas. That's gonna be a good thing for Keene.