Mayor-elect Tony Giunta confident in Franklin’s future

  • Franklin mayor-elect Tony Giunta talks about the future of Franklin from his home in Franklin on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Franklin mayor-elect Tony Giunta sits for a photo at his home in Franklin on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Franklin mayor-elect Tony Giunta talks about his hopes for the city from his home on Thursday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Franklin mayor-elect Anthony Giunta talks about his education plans from his home in Franklin. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, December 03, 2017

As a child, Anthony Giunta had an inquisitive mind: He loved gears, wires and wheels – anything that would make something go.

“I would take engines that were totally dysfunctional and rebuild them to make them work again,” Giunta said.

That curiosity is a trait Giunta says has made him a skilled engineer, and a skilled politician in Franklin, and now he wants to fix the city’s economic engine, which has been sputtering and wheezing for decades.

Giunta, the city’s incoming mayor, has been a politician in Franklin almost since he moved there in 1996. He started out on the school board, served as mayor for two terms in the early 2000s and later as a city councilor. He won another term in the October elections after Ken Merrifield left the post to be commissioner of the state’s Department of Labor.

Giunta said he plans to continue the city’s push for revitalization, but he has his work cut out for him. Despite the flurry of efforts to breathe life back into the city, Franklin remains one of the state’s poorest communities, with low education rates and 1 in 5 residents living in poverty.

“I feel that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish in this city,” he said. “There’s no problem we can’t solve.”

Getting a start

Giunta, born in Dedham, Mass., has lived in various places around the country, including Texas, where he worked for Exxon, but decided to move back to the East Coast to be closer to family members, who have a farm in Sanbornton.

He and his wife were drawn to their house on Webster Lake in Franklin for the view and ability to go out on their pontoon boat – and the rock in their backyard overlooking the water where it’s rumored that famous orator Daniel Webster practiced his speeches.

They had no idea how much the city would become a significant part of their lives.

“We didn’t really know about the reputation of Franklin,” Giunta said. “We just knew that it was a great house, and it was in Franklin.”

But they soon found out – Giunta read editorials in the then-city newspaper the Telegram criticizing Franklin’s downtown and school system.

Those editorials frustrated Giunta.

“People were complaining, but there was nobody stepping up that I could see to do anything about it,” he remembered.

So, Giunta started writing his own opinion pieces, praising the town’s infrastructure and its development potential. Then, one day, he had a knock on his door from Dicky Rowell, who had lived in Franklin for decades and was the owner of Rowell’s Septic Service.

“He said, ‘I like what I’m reading from you. I want you to run for the school board,’ ” Giunta recalled.

Giunta had lived in the city less than two years. He agreed to campaign – and Rowell said he’d support him. Rowell, who has since passed away, even put signs with Giunta’s name on the back of his waste trucks.

“It was the proudest moment of my political career,” Giunta said with a laugh.

School board

Giunta won the school board seat – but that was the easy part.

He joined the board right in the midst of a massive court fight over the state’s allocation of school funding.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court decided it was the state’s responsibility to make sure students were receiving an equal education.

The city of Franklin had always been strapped for money for its schools, and suddenly it felt like the school system was flooded with money, Giunta recalled.

But Giunta said the board found that increased spending didn’t make a huge difference in student outcome. What made a difference was focusing on improving the classroom experience for individual students.

At the end of his term on the school board, then-Mayor Jim Lewis asked him if he’d consider running for mayor.

In 1999, he won the mayor’s race. The next year, he ran a second time unopposed.

Running again

Giunta said it was Merrifield’s departure that compelled him to run for mayor a third time.

Merrifield was mayor of Franklin for five terms until he stepped down in May.

Giunta was serving his fourth term as a city councilor, and he decided he didn’t want to see the city’s progress go to waste.

Giunta doesn’t deny it when people call Franklin a “dying mill town.”

“To a certain extent, we are,” he said. “But, people forget that those mills brought infrastructure with them.”

He pointed to the infrastructure of three-phase power that the city invested in during the milling days, along with sewer and water systems.

And now he looks at infrastructure projects as yet another opportunity to boost the city’s economy.

He said the Northern Pass proposal – a power transmission line running from hydropower in Canada south through most of the state – is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for Franklin. He said the project would double the tax value of the city.

He also wants to encourage new development to look at the city as a willing partner. Working with Franklin will be easy and straightforward for developers, Giunta said.

He pointed out that some communities make development as difficult as possible.

“Well, guess what: You know where they can come? Franklin,” Giunta said.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)