Local Democrats Call Foul Over  Failure to Invite Governor to Parade

Londonderry residents enjoyed the Town’s 116th Old Home Day celebration last weekend, but some were concerned with significant changes to this year’s parade.

The Old Home Day parade down Mammoth Road on Saturday was the first anyone can remember that was not led by the governor. Instead, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte led the parade to Mack’s Apples.

Democrats U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, both of whom have marched in Londonderry’s Old Home Day parade in previous years, were not present for this year’s event as well. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who filed paperwork last week to run again for U.S. Congress, also did not walk in the Town’s parade.

The finger of blame is being pointed in different directions – Republican officials are blaming Democratic leadership for not ensuring the governor and other Democrats in office, as well as Democrats running for election, were invited; while Democratic officials say there was a concerted effort among Republicans in town to block Democratic leaders and candidates from marching in the parade.

Of most concern to town officials and members of the Old Home Day Committee was the failure to invite Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, to lead the parade.

Parade Committee Chairman Christine Patton said many months ago, when the Committee began organizing this year’s Old Home Day celebration, she sent an email to the Governor’s office inviting Hassan to lead the parade.

“This was my first time organizing the parade. I had no idea I should follow up,” she said, explaining she received an email back from the person she sent the governor’s invitation to that informed her they no longer worked in the governor’s office, but would pass the invitation along to the right person.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s office confirmed on Aug. 17 that her office received an invitation to walk in the parade, but “her schedule did not allow her to attend.”

“With all the emails I was receiving, I lost track of who said who was coming and who said no,” Patton said. “I had no one really guiding me for this.”

Patton’s best resource was a spreadsheet former Parade Committee Chairman Rick Mansfield gave her with contact information for State officials who marched in the parade the previous year.

Old Home Day Committee member Tammy Siekmann, who also serves as the chairman of the Londonderry Democratic Committee, said in previous years, Mansfield would often reach out to her and request assistance contacting Democratic officials and candidates in the state.

“Not one person on that committee, or from the Town, asked me to contact Democratic candidates,” she said.

When Patton expressed concern that she was having trouble contacting elected officials and candidates at a meeting of the Old Home Day Committee prior to the parade, she said she remembers someone offering to extend the invitations for her. She doesn’t recall who that person was, but from then on, was under the impression the task would be completed.

“I should have followed through,” she said.

Because Patton was new to her leadership role on the Parade Committee, Siekmann said ultimately she thinks the responsibility for the failure to invite the governor and other Democratic officials falls on the chairman of the Old Home Day Committee.

“All my volunteers who run committees are delegated to. I don’t micromanage them,” Old Home Day Committee Chairman Kathy Wagner said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. I’m more of an administrative person. I’m getting the check in, dealing with the town and doing all the little things they’re too busy to do.”

Not so, Siekmann countered.

“Kathy said to me it was (Patton’s) first year, and she was not going to let this parade go down like last year, and if she had to, she would run the parade,” she said, noting the failure to invite the governor is the Town’s third snafu.

In 2013, the governor was introduced in the parade as, “Maggie Hassan, the Governor of Massachusetts,” and during last year’s parade, she was harassed by a Republican party staffer dressed like a chicken.

“You can try and dump it off on whomever you want, but at the end of the day, it falls on the chair,” she said, calling for Wagner’s resignation from the Committee.

The challenge to Wagner’s position comes only weeks after residents expressed concern after Wagner wrote on her personal Facebook page an inflammatory comment about Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“Hey Hillary. Not going to happen in Londonderry. However, we know from your Londonderry team you don’t have the balls to show,” she wrote on July 4.

Town Council Chairman John Farrell said he “felt horrible” when he found out on Aug. 12 that Hassan had not been invited to participate in the parade; and that although it’s not his role to intervene, he got involved to try to help the situation.

When he called the governor’s office, Farrell said he learned from the woman who schedules Hassan’s events that Patton sent the original email to the Governor in January.

“She has a copy of that email. It was sent to the wrong email address,” he said. “We tested that email address, and it bounced back.”

“Unfortunately, the invitation was sent to an incorrect email and wasn’t received. We were contacted this week about the event, but Gov. Hassan had committed to participating in Pittsburg’s Old Home Day Celebration,” Amber Melo, a press contact in the governor’s office, wrote in an email to the Londonderry Times last week.

Farrell, noting “everyone knows anyone who wants to come to the parade is welcome,” said he sees the failure to invite Hassan to walk in the parade as “an oversight by a new parade person who was doing the best she could.”

“Any notion of a conspiracy to invite one party and not another is the height of absurdity,” Town Manager Kevin Smith said.

“When it comes to Christine Patton, there is not a malicious bone in that woman’s body. Whether she did or didn’t do something, it was never malicious,” said Mansfield. “It has gotten so politically out of control, I don’t think people have an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into this behind the scenes. She did a great job, and anyone that makes her out to be the scapegoat is doing the wrong thing. When it came to the parade she was very vocal and passionate about making sure there was equal representation.”

“The Democrats should stop their whining, because they had every opportunity, like the Republican side, to let people know about the parade,” Old Home Day Committee member Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative, said.

Moving forward, Farrell said the Town plans to set a policy that all invitations to elected officials will be sent out in January from the Town Manager’s Office. The Town Manager’s Office will also be responsible for following up with all invited officials.

And Smith said he will be writing the governor a formal apology for the oversight.

But the parade wasn’t the only source of Old Home Day controversy.

Democrats also called foul when Republican Presidential hopeful Ben Carson showed up at Kidz Night on the Town Common, accompanied by Baldasaro and Smith.

“It’s the first time we have had a candidate show up for Kidz Night, and I have been running it for five to six years,” Old Home Day Committee member Tim Siekmann said. “My personal opinion is, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or Independent – stay away from Kidz Night. It’s for the kids.”

Having not been made aware that Carson’s campaign had planned to visit the Common during the Aug. 13 event, Siekmann, who received numerous complaints about the impromptu campaign stop, asked people rallying with signs to cease their campaigning.

“I told Ben Carson and his campaign they were welcome to walk around the Common, as long as they didn’t approach anyone or solicit votes,” Siekmann said. “Carson, his campaign manager and their people were super polite and accommodating.”

Tammy Siekmann, who coordinates Kidz Night with her husband, said the Old Home Day Committee’s policy has always been that the celebration is not about politics.

“We’ve never had this issue with Kidz Night,” she said.

Smith, who gave Carson’s camp the “okay” to visit the Common on Kidz Night when they called Town Hall seeking permission, said the public event is always open to all.

“The U.S. Constitution guarantees people a right to be there,” he said. “The Town’s policy is, we will welcome and greet anyone who comes to town regardless of party affiliation.”

When Carson’s campaign called his office to give him notice they planned to visit the Common on Kidz Night, Smith said his recommendation was it would be better for them to stop by for the festivities on Saturday, Aug. 15, as “that’s really the heart of Old Home Day.”

But, Carson wasn’t in New Hampshire on Saturday, so his campaign decided to visit the community on Kidz Night.

“It’s called the Constitution of the United States of America,” Farrell said. “It’s a public place and event, and he can go to whatever he wants to. The question came up, and we spoke to the police chief and town attorney, and they both said it was okay.”

“The Democrats are trying to blame the Republicans, but Old Home Day shouldn’t be about politics. If politicians want to show up, they do,” Baldasaro said, noting he has never heard of a policy against campaigning on Kidz Night.

Tim Siekmann said at the end of the day, Kidz Night, as well as the rest of Old Home Day, is about the families of Londonderry.

“Old Home Day is not supposed to be about politics,” he said.

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