Concord City Council Ward 8: With three on ballot, Cate and Sekou take first swing at serving, Soucy tries again

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 10-31-2023 6:09 PM

When Ali Sekou was sworn in as a new United States citizen, the presiding judge reminded the crowd that being an American means having responsibilities. Sekou took that to heart and is now acting on that responsibility, he said, by running to represent Ward 8 on Concord’s City Council.

“I am a newcomer but I care,” he said. “Concord has given me a lot.”

For Dennis Soucy, who has run numerous times to represent Concord as a representative in the State House and on city council, Sekou’s candidacy is a larger commentary on the state of the country.

“Why is America pulling away from all our values that we had,” he said. “I just want everyone to vote American, to be American and America first.”

Soucy is running for the open Ward 8 seat for a fourth time. 

The third candidate in the race, Jonathan Cate is no stranger to Concord. He’s lived in Ward 8 since he was seven years old. But with a growing population of people experiencing homelessness and an increase of violent crime, the city is changing, he said.

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“The city is not what it used to be,” he said. “When I was 10 years old, we used to ride our bikes to Dame school to Broken Ground, as we got older, Rundlett, Concord High School. I wouldn’t let my kids do that today.”

Cate said he’s running to help the city with its priorities. With a shortage of first responders and vacancies in the police department, a half-million-dollar investment for lights at Keach Park, something the city’s immigrant community asked for, could have been better spent, he said.

“I feel like we’re focusing on the wrong things,” he said. “I feel like we’re missing something. And I think that’s what I can bring to the council, because I was here. I grew up here. I know what it was like as a taxpayer.”

To Cate, there’s a difference between running the city well and running it efficiently. Few members of the current council challenge extraneous spending, like raises for the highest earning employee in Concord, specifically City Manager Tom Aspell, who makes more than $200,000 a year, he said.

As a dairy farmer, he had to piece together his business bit by bit. And it’s that kind of prioritization and resourcing the city could better utilize in spending, he said.

“Somehow we’ve been able to survive. I think there’s a big portion of me where we know how to deal with the immediate threat, and without sacrificing our future,” he said.

Sekou agrees with Cate – as a city councilor the fiscal responsibility of managing taxpayer dollars would be his top priority.

“As a leader and as an administrator, it’s always good to know where the money, especially people’s money, is going,” he said. “It’s important when given this responsibility to make sure that the taxpayer money is spent with priority.”

To Sekou, his run for city council represents the opportunity that the United States can provide to immigrants like himself.

In the decade he’s lived in Concord since immigrating from Niger, Sekou can break down his accomplishments by the numbers.

He and his wife are raising two daughters on the Heights. He’s received three degrees – an associates from NHTI, a bachelors from Plymouth State and masters degree from UNH – in tourism, political science and community development. He serves on six nonprofit boards, including the Community Loan Fund, the Concord Public Library Foundation and the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success. 

Although races for city council are nonpartisan, Soucy cited his experience with the state’s Republican party and close network of friends.

“We’ve lived here for 40 years and everybody knows me,” he said. “You mention my name anywhere in the Republican Party or in Concord and people will say ‘yeah’.”

When thinking about Ward 8 in particular, which includes the Heights, Soucy would like to see more senior housing in the area. He worries that other developments, like affordable housing complexes, would put pressure on the school system.

Cate also agrees that Concord needs more housing, but what type is built is an important distinction.

“I’ve heard a lot of even from the governor that we need more low-income housing. Well, no, you need affordable housing. Those are two different things,” he said. “You need something that a family that brings in a gross of $100,000 a year can afford.”

To generate more revenue for the city, Soucy also supports the Concord Casino – despite allegations of misconduct against owner Andy Sanborn, who he knows well, he said.

“Andy probably did a couple of things that he shouldn’t have done,” he said. “But as far as anybody getting a license for casino, they’re everywhere… Why can’t Concord reap the benefits of a casino?”

For a decade, Gail Matson has represented Ward 8 on the council. Soucy previously challenged Matson three times for her seat. In 2019, he said it would be his last time running for the city council. Then he changed his mind.

Although she won’t be on the ballot, Matson hopes Sekou will take her former seat, given his current engagement in the city, she said in an endorsement.

“For me, coming to the city council is just taking my service to the next level,” Sekou said.