Editorial: An expensive, unnecessary campaign
If the anti-BearCat activists had gathered $10,000 in addition to 1,500 signatures, would they have had more success in persuading the Concord City Council to see things their way?
The question occurred to us after learning about a proposal for a group of neighbors who oppose extending the Langley Parkway to raise that much money to finance a “behind-the-scenes” lobbying campaign to convince the council to kill the project. The idea is to hire consultant Jim Merrill, a strategist who has worked in recent years for presidential candidate Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne, and ask him to organize attendance at public meetings, letters to the editor and “reaching out to influential members of the Concord community.”
So far, it’s unclear whether the lobbying campaign will go anywhere. But it strikes us as unseemly, unnecessary and, in the end, incapable of guaranteed long-term success.
If this were the NRA spending big money to get the ear of Congress or even the New Hampshire Legislature, it wouldn’t seem so remarkable. Behind-the-scenes is, perhaps, par for the course. But Concord city government is – or should be – conducted in a forthright manner. An attempt to orchestrate and manipulate the outcome of a serious public policy debate in a secretive manner should make the council uneasy – not to mention less well-off residents of other neighborhoods who might benefit from the Langley Parkway extension, should it ever be built.
The approach strikes as unnecessary because it’s not difficult – for free – to get the attention of a Concord city councilor – or 14 councilors. Indeed, given Mayor Jim Bouley’s public criticism of the Langley Parkway project, it seems the opponents have already had considerable success. And in interviews with candidates for mayor and city council over the past month, Monitor editors have heard tremendous skepticism about the parkway extension project, at least anytime in the near future.
The project has been in Concord’s long-term plans for decades. An earlier phase – the road connecting Clinton and Pleasant streets – opened to traffic in 2008 after long delays and a court battle. The next phase would connect Concord Hospital to the intersection of North State and Penacook streets. The notion is to ease traffic congestion in residential neighborhoods near the hospital and reduce travel time to the hospital for emergency vehicles.
The city’s capital improvement plan lists construction as starting in 2017, though there is no money set aside for it, and the need for other improvements – Main Street revitalization, replacement of the Sewalls Falls Bridge, construction of a community center on the Heights, a new library and the repaving of crumbling neighborhood streets – all take precedence.
In his pitch to neighbors for the lobbying campaign, one of the parkway’s opponents expressed hope that they could succeed in killing the project. But a vote by the current council to officially delay the project or even remove it altogether from the city’s long-term plan wouldn’t necessarily do away with it. It’s easy to imagine that a future mayor and council – 10, 15 years out – might determine that the time has come for the project and revive the plan, or some revamped version of it.
Our advice to Langley Parkway opponents: Attend next month’s public hearing on the project and voice your concerns. When the city engineer delivers a report to the council, get your hands on a copy. Participate in the public debate on the city budget and 10-year capital improvement plan. Call your councilors. But keep your $10,000 for yourself.