In District 15, Concord connections shape Ardinger’s campaign
State Senate candidate Kass Ardinger stood on a doorstep on Devinne Drive in her tan skirt and neon blue-and-green walking sneakers. When Jude Griffith opened her door, Ardinger flashed a smile and began a quick history of her eight years on the Concord School Board and her candidacy for the open District 15 seat.
Griffith smiled back at her. Her 11-year-old daughter peeked at Ardinger from around the door frame.
“I was going to vote for you anyway, because I’m very familiar with you from the Concord School Board,” Griffith said.
Ardinger is one of two Democrats competing in a primary for the seat held by outgoing state Sen. Sylvia Larsen for the last 20 years. A 54-year-old New Hampshire native, Ardinger has built her campaign on her years with the school board and her established history in Concord.
“I think there’s not a lot of daylight between (primary challenger Dan Feltes) and I on the issues,” Ardinger said in a recent interview. “And what I’m trying to do in my campaign is to distinguish myself on my experience and my involvement in this community and my long-term residency in New Hampshire.”
The granddaughter of Greek immigrants, Ardinger grew up in Claremont and graduated from Stevens High School in 1978. Her uncle Harry Spanos was the minority leader in the state Senate and a two-time candidate for governor. As a teenager, Ardinger worked on Spanos’s campaign when he was running against incumbent Republican Gov. Mel Thompson in 1976.
Ardinger earned her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College in 1982. When she married her high school sweetheart, Bill Ardinger, now-Democratic National Committeeman Peter Burling performed the ceremony. Burling, who lives in Cornish, was close to her father and uncle when Ardinger was growing up.
“I have a very admiring soft spot for her,” Burling said. “She (has) an exceptional intelligence, she is an exceptional spirit.”
Ardinger moved to Washington, D.C., and earned her law degree from George Washington University in 1985. She worked as an attorney at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until her first son was born in 1987, and she and her husband moved back to New Hampshire in 1989.
Ardinger was looking to re-enter the workforce when the youngest of her three children was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness at age 3. At a community forum in Hopkinton, Ardinger told the crowd about the way that experience shook her young family.
“It drops the bottom out of your life,” Ardinger said.
Burling remembered the years Ardinger and her family spent fighting for her daughter Taylor, who is now 22.
“Here’s the woman who was going to have a brilliant legal career, and she made an important decision and said, ‘I need to care for my baby,’ and she did,” Burling said. “I think that demonstrated a quality of character that I greatly admire.”
‘A back-and-forth conversation’
As her children became older, Ardinger became more involved in the local community. She is currently in her third term on the Concord School Board. She was one of the founding board members of HEAR in New Hampshire, a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. As she strode through East Concord with her clipboard in hand, she talked about her experience with Independent Living Concord. The group of local families is working to build supportive housing for adults with disabilities, including their own children.
Clint Cogswell, the president of the school board and a former Concord principal, has known her for years as a parent and a colleague. He joined the board while then-president Ardinger was leading the effort to build three new elementary schools in Concord.
“She always felt we had to do the best job . . . and we’ve got to do it in ways that don’t break the bank,” Cogswell said.
While consolidating the elementary schools, the board heard criticism and complaint from many residents who loved the historic neighborhood schools that would be closed. But Ardinger said she can remember the day the tide began to change, when parents began to argue amongst each other about whose neighborhood would get a new school first. All three schools – the Mill Brook, Abbot-Downing and McAuliffe schools – opened in fall 2012.
“It was a back-and-forth conversation,” Ardinger said in an editorial board interview at the Monitor. “Not only did we learn as the school board, but parents learned. That input was a two-way thing.”
Now, Ardinger said she wants to bring that back-and-forth conversation to the Legislature.
“If I could bring that . . . local experience that I’ve had to the state level, I think I would be a very good mouthpiece for the Democratic Party,” Ardinger said.
Janet Ward, a longtime Hopkinton resident, had not met Ardinger before she became a candidate in District 15. So along with former state representative Christine Hamm and other friends, she hosted a forum with both candidates at Hamm’s house to learn more about their positions and their personalities.
“Both had admirable achievements to their credit but we do have to make a choice, so I’ve decided to support Kass,” Ward said. “Because after examining her record, her biography, I’ve decided that she’s demonstrated courage and strength of character both in her personal and public life.”
Last weekend, Ward ushered Ardinger through a farmers market in Hopkinton. When voters questioned the candidate about health care, Ward said Ardinger listened intently and responded with questions of her own.
“It was clear that she had heard every word and understood very well the issues that were motivating those people to ask questions,” Ward said.
Ward said she sees Ardinger as mature, thoughtful and “nonconfrontational.”
“The really great leaders are the ones who appreciate that they only have one perspective and there maybe other ways of looking at the issue. . . . For me as a voter in District 15, she has the strong and effective leadership style I want to see in my senator,” Ward said.
A civic duty
While Ardinger has never served in the state Legislature, her husband, Bill Ardinger, did serve one term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1980 to 1982. A Republican, Bill Ardinger is an attorney for Rath, Young & Pignatelli in Concord. During the 2014 session, he was a registered lobbyist at the State House on behalf of the North Country Hospital Coalition and Fidelity Investments. Other members of his law firm also lobby on behalf of interests like Public Service of New Hampshire and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire.
Should she win the election, Ardinger said she felt she could navigate any possible conflict of interest within “the spirit and the letter of the guidelines.” She cited examples of other political couples like now-U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and her husband, Bill Shaheen, and the outgoing Larsen and her husband, Bob Larsen.
In June, Larsen caught many of her colleagues and supporters by surprise when she announced her retirement. Ardinger, who announced her candidacy that same day, was Larsen’s pre-ordained choice for her successor.
“That was her decision, and you have to respect a 20-year veteran to make the decision when to announce,” Ardinger said. “I recognize it caused hurt feelings. All I can say is, don’t take it out on me. I’m a candidate, and I’m working really, really hard.”
And as a candidate, Larsen’s endorsement has added another spark to Ardinger’s campaign. When she stopped at Therese Robidoux’s door on Rochester Lane on Tuesday, Ardinger mentioned her endorsements from both Larsen and Emily’s List, a national group that raises money for pro-abortion rights Democratic women. The 61-year-old woman promised Ardinger her vote once she heard Larsen’s name.
“I voted for her,” Robidoux said. “Definitely, if she’s endorsed you.”
Robidoux guaranteed she would be at the polls on primary day.
“It’s our civic duty!” Ardinger said, as she waved goodbye.
“Darn right,” Robidoux said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)