Manchester’s Pappas announces bid to replace Shea-Porter in Congress

  • Executive Councilor Chris Pappas is seen during a meeting at the State House on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Chris Pappas sits at his family’s business, the Puritan Backroom Restaurant, in Manchester on Thursday. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 11/9/2017 2:40:24 PM

Saying that “I really feel the call to serve,” Executive Councilor Chris Pappas on Thursday announced his bid for the open U.S. House seat in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

The Democrat from Manchester told the Monitor that “I really feel the opportunity is here to try to put things back into focus and solve problems. I think the system in Washington, frankly, is broken, and, I don’t think we can tolerate it any longer.”

Pappas, 37, is currently serving his third term on the state’s five-member Executive Council. He also runs the Puritan Backroom, the restaurant that his family has owned and operated for 100 years. Pappas sat down for an interview with the Monitor at the restaurant before hitting the campaign trail in Exeter, Portsmouth and Dover.

“I’ll still be here pulling some shifts, but I’ve got some support from family members and some great longtime employees that are going to step up and make sure this place continues to run. I’m still going to be very involved in it over the next year and I will for the rest of my life,” Pappas said.

“This place is a part of who I am. It’s informed my upbringing and my world view and serving the public in this kind of setting I think translates well into what a member of Congress is asked to in terms of constituent service and making sure people are taking care of,” he added.

Pappas, if elected, would become New Hampshire’s first openly gay member of Congress.

“It’s an important part of who I am obviously. It’s something that I don’t hide from, that I’m certainly proud of. And I think that anytime someone breaks down a barrier, it tells everyone that the political arena is open to you, that you have a part in this community,” Pappas said.

Pappas hopes to succeed four-term Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The congresswoman from Rochester announced last month that she would not run for re-election in 2018.

“I think Carol has done great work advocating for middle-class families,” Pappas said. “I think that’s a model for me.”

Pappas said he would look to work across the aisle in Congress to combat the drug crisis, which has severely impacted the Granite State.

He called the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, which was co-founded by Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster and former GOP Congressman Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, “a great step forward in the right direction.”

“I think we have to champion what’s been happening at the local level. There’s been a focus put on the Safe Station program in Manchester, which is now a model nationally. I think that’s really exciting for New Hampshire,” he said. “As much as we can tout what New Hampshire’s doing and help leverage that for federal resources, that’s going to help us in the long term.”

Pappas joins state Rep. Mark Mackenzie of Manchester, a former longtime New Hampshire AFL-CIO president, in seeking the Democratic nomination. Minutes after the announcement by Pappas, MacKenzie’s campaign unveiled an endorsement by the United Steelworkers Union.

Iraq War veteran and former Obama Pentagon official Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth, former Strafford County Attorney Lincoln Soldati, and Rochester City Attorney Terence O’Rourke are also declared Democratic candidates. State Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye is likely to jump in to the race in coming days, and Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard is also seriously considering a bid.

The 1st District, which covers much of southeastern New Hampshire, the Lakes Region, and up to North Conway, is one of the most high-profile and closely watched swing congressional districts in the country. And it’s ping-ponged between Shea-Porter and Guinta the past four elections.

Pappas is the biggest name to date to enter the race for the Democratic nomination in the 1st District, and likely received encouragement from national and state party leaders to launch a campaign. But he said he’s not the establishment candidate.

“I’m going to insist that the party creates a level playing field for all the candidates. I really look forward to having an open and honest debate with all the other folks who are stepping forward to seek this office. I think that’s a healthy thing,” Pappas said.

And he said he’s reaching out to Democrats who supported both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary, which Sanders won by 22 percentage points.

“What I’ve been experiencing over the past few weeks is that there are folks who supported different people for president who are getting behind my candidacy, and I feel like I’ll be able to put together a broad coalition that will be durable in the general election,” Pappas predicted.

He also emphasized that he’ll be courting not just Democrats but also the large pool of independent voters in the district, which Donald Trump carried in last year’s presidential election.

State Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford and former state law enforcement official Eddie Edwards are the two Republican candidates who have launched campaigns. Former New Hampshire Republican Party vice chairman Matt Mayberry is also likely to announce a bid in the near future.

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