Don’t yawn: Executive Council primary state’s most interesting

ThevNew Hampshire Union Leader originally published this column on August 21, 2012:

Exciting and Executive Council don’t go together often, but one of the hottest races in an otherwise sleepy primary season is the contest for the Republican nomination in the Manchester-area district.

Tom DeBlois, 67, is a one-term state senator who runs his own property management business. The lifelong Manchester resident points to his 46 years of business experience as his best preparation for the job. “I’ve negotiated hundreds of contracts over those years,” DeBlois says. Reviewing state contracts is one of the council’s main responsibilities.

After graduating from Central High, DeBlois enlisted in the U.S. Army. He met his wife of 47 years, Peggy, two days after being discharged, and they were married five months later. “It doesn’t take me long to make decisions,” DeBlois says with his characteristic broad grin. He has held leadership positions with the Franco-American Center, the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and Rotary.

“Any one of us can fill this seat. Few of us can fill the shoes of Ray Wieczorek,” DeBlois says of the popular retiring five-term councilor. “My goal would be to emulate him.”

“I’m a very conservative person,” DeBlois asserts. When it comes to state judges, which the council must confirm, DeBlois says he’s “looking for candidates who would uphold the Constitution and Bill of Rights and not put their own stamp on that.” He expresses concern about how the state Department of Health and Human Services went around the council to find taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood that the council had specifically rejected.

If every person who ever ate in one of Chuck Rolecek’s restaurants votes in the primary, the political newcomer could emerge on top. Talking in a booth in his Hanover Street Chophouse, the restaurateur pauses to greet a patron by name, later doing the same to acknowledge an employee. Rolecek has done well in people businesses — a trait that should serve him well in politics.

Raised in suburban Chicago, hockey brought Rolecek to the University of Denver and its hospitality school. He was recruited into United Airlines’ management training program, but after 10 years of corporate life Rolecek had an epiphany during a long commute from Logan to New Hampshire and soon started an airline catering business. C.R. Sparks and other businesses followed over 27 years.

“ ‘You didn’t build that?’ If you heard a scream coming out of Bedford, it probably was me,”Rolecek said, shaking his head incredulously.

Rolecek, 55, describes himself as “pragmatic” and “fiscally conservative, but more of a moderate on most social issues.” He has served as head of the state restaurant association and sits on the boards at Elliot Hospital, Saint Anselm College and the NHHEAF Network supporting higher education.

“I think my years in business have made me tolerant of things. Life isn’t Burger King; you don’t always get it your way. In business, one learns to compromise, to take a middle ground where employees and customers are happy so that the owner makes a profit. That’s the framework that’s worked for me,” Rolecek says.

Bob Burns, 34, has run against Democratic Executive Council candidate Chris Pappas twice before, losing a bid for Hillsborough County treasurer in 2008 before winning a rematch in 2010 by nearly 20,000 votes. The Manchester West grad grew up in Bedford and just bought a home in Manchester. He is self-employed as a reseller of manufacturing equipment, servicing the pharmaceutical industry.

If there’s a Tea Party candidate in the primary, Burns is it. The self-described “liberty candidate” freely criticizes the existing all-Republican council for having been too compliant with the Lynch administration. Two state commissioners resigned recently under clouds, prompting House Speaker Bill O’Brien to call for more oversight of appointed officials. “We have that — it’s the council,” Burns points out.

Asked which of the existing councilors he might want to be like, Burns responds quickly: “Dave Wheeler. No question.”

He explains: “A lot of times you’ll see Wheeler as the only dissenting vote.” When Gov. John Lynch nominated Jim Bassett to the state Supreme Court this spring, “Wheeler was the only guy asking the tough questions” before the council voted to confirm Bassett to the bench. “A lot of councilors said how great (resigned Employment Security Commissioner Tara) Reardon was. Wheeler was the only one saying ‘We need to prosecute her!’ ”

Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at fergus@ferguscullen.com.

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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