John Cook wants to reduce city spending
John Cook thinks Concord needs to hit the pause button on capital spending.
Before moving forward with any projects, the mayoral candidate said, the city should do more research and make sure there is enough money.
“Get in that foxhole, make sure before you stick your head up you’re not drawing fire,” Cook said of his approach to city projects.
The 69-year-old retired state employee and Vietnam veteran is running for mayor this fall against Chris Booth and three-term incumbent Jim Bouley. Cook last ran for mayor against Bouley in 2011 and earned 15 percent of the vote. This fall, Cook said he is not actively campaigning.
“I don’t know that I need to,” he said. “I think that people know from last time who I am and what I’ve done. And if people want to know, they’ll come and talk to me. I’m downtown all the time. I’ll sit and talk for hours about politics.”
Cook, who lives on Union Street and also rents out homes on Maple and Union streets, said the city should stop spending money on projects that are funded with federal grant money or city bonds.
“There’s a gap between the taxpayers and what they need and want and the guys running the place,” he said.
If elected, Cook said he would reconsider the upcoming redesign of Main Street, which will cost more than $10 million and includes a $4.71 million federal grant.
He is concerned about whether the project can stay within its budget. He is skeptical of a plan to reduce parking and replace angled parking spaces with parallel parking along one side of the street. And he is worried that the city council, business owners and property owners are not all in agreement about the design. Construction is expected to begin next year to reduce traffic to two lanes with a crossable median, widen sidewalks, increase accessibility and add landscaping and public art.
“I’d spiff up the downtown, but I don’t know that I’d totally change the whole parking and configuration of the lanes,” he said.
Cook said his first priority would be taking care of the current Main Street and making sure it is kept clean.
On the potential extension of Langley Parkway from Pleasant Street to the intersection of North State and Penacook streets, Cook said he would like to delay the project but not remove it entirely from city plans.
“Sitting things aside for a while doesn’t hurt, it gives you time to think about it,” he said. “It gives you time to see what your budget is going to be like in the future.”
Placing capital improvements “on the back burner” would be the best approach to many city projects, Cook said.
He has doubts that a proposed three-lane Loudon Road would relieve congestion.
Cook said he would not support spending money to build a new community center on the Heights at the former Dame School.
“If it’s going to cost money, who’s paying for it?” he said. “Everybody is hurting nowadays. The taxpayers are hurting, government’s hurting, the federal government’s hurting.”
While Cook said he supports libraries, he does not think that Concord needs a new downtown library.
“I’m not sure that a library as it was traditionally can survive anymore,” he said.
He does want the city to spend money to care for its infrastructure and maintain its buildings. He said he supports replacing the Sewalls Falls Bridge, and the city needs to do a better job of maintaining its parking garages.
But he would not put more money into repaving city streets.
“I kind of like the pothole streets because it slows people down,” he said. “They drive fast, so I don’t necessarily go in and say pave all the streets because kids drive fast on them. The potholes slow people down. Maybe we should put more potholes on the side streets.”
On the issue of homelessness, Cook said the city must ask the state government for more support in dealing with substance abuse and mental health problems.
“We’ve got a multitude of issues, and we need to get together with the governor to solve them,” he said.
Concord has a small town feel, Cook said, but he would like to make it a friendlier place. He said he would like to see greater collaboration between elected officials, city employees and residents.
He said he disagreed with the council’s vote this fall to accept a federal grant for an armored BearCat vehicle because residents submitted a petition with more than 1,500 signatures opposing it.
Cook said he decided to run for mayor again because he “figured people need to hear another voice,” though he does not think he will necessarily defeat Bouley.
“Jim probably deserves a fourth term,” he said. “I’m not saying that I’m going to get a lot of votes.”
Street: Union Street
Job: Retired state employee, veteran, landlord
City government experience: Ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2011