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Longtime Dem Marchand Busted by AG for Bogus Campaign Website

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said Democrat Steve Marchand lied about his role in a political scheme targeting his opponents in Portsmouth.

Marchand, a progressive Democrat who once served as Portsmouth mayor and sought his party’s nomination for governor, will not face criminal charges, the office said in a letter. Instead, it issued a letter of warning to Marchand for his involvement in Preserve-Portsmouth.com and other websites that targeted sitting city council members in the last municipal election.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Peter Whelan, one of the Portsmouth councilors targeted.

Whelan, Councilors Susan Paige Trace, Ester Kennedy, Greg Mahanna, Petra Huda, and Mayor Rick Becksted were all targeted by anonymous websites, fliers, and robotexts operated by Marchand, according to Myles Matteson with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

“It was shameful. There were robotexts sent by the thousands,” Whelan said.

Trace said the attorney general’s investigation revealed there was an effort to mislead the voters of Portsmouth.

“It’s about being transparent and behaving in an honorable manner,” Trace said.

All of the candidates targeted by Marchand were defeated. Current Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern declined to comment, as he had not seen Matteson’s letter.

“I didn’t have any interaction with the (Marchand) in my campaign,” McEachern said. “I have no idea what the former mayor was doing or not doing.”

Marchand did not respond to a request for comment. His attorney, Joseph Foster, is currently out of the country and unable to be reached.

Marchand’s bogus website was built to mirror a legitimate site with a similar name, Preserve Portsmouth, and purported to support the same city council candidates the original site endorsed. But it falsely described them as far-right Trump supporters. According to documents obtained by the Attorney General’s Office, Marchand wanted to depress voter turnout among Republicans in order to benefit Democrats on the ballot.

Marchand initially lied to investigator Anna Croteau when she questioned him about his part in the campaign, according to Mattson’s letter.

“When she first asked about Preserve-Portsmouth.com, you stated that you had heard of the website. You denied you had ever claimed responsibility for the website but noted that other people had been saying you were responsible for it,” Matteson wrote.

However, Croteau already had screenshots of a text conversation in which Marchand took credit for the content of the websites.

“To be very clear, I am the one to create the content,” Marchand wrote.

Matteson’s letter states the Attorney General’s Office has records of Marchand’s communications with at least four other people about the campaign, in which he stated the goal was to create guilt by association aimed at the targeted candidates, linking them to Trump in the mind of Portsmouth voters.

“(i)s really meant to help get Democrats who gave Becksted and others a vote in 2019 to really think about what they are doing in 2021,” Marchand wrote.

Whelan suspects the true purpose of the campaign was to get rid of council members who oppose development in the historic sections of the city. Marchand’s record as mayor includes changing zoning ordinances to make development easier, Whelan said. Whelan wants to know who Marchand was working with and for, and who funded the operation.

“Somebody spent a lot of money to do this,” Whelan said.

The attorney general’s report found that while Marchand would have violated campaign finance law by not disclosing who was behind the websites, fliers, and robotexts if it could be proved that he acted in concert with others. However, Marchand claimed, eventually, that while he acted alone in creating the content he did not set up the websites. Matteson noted the claim he acted alone was the last of many explanations Marchand offered to investigators.

New Hampshire law on campaign finance transparency allows a narrow exemption for individuals engaged in advocacy. Marchand was cautioned, however, that if he continues to engage in similar campaigns he could lose the exemption and face possible prosecution.

Last year, Portsmouth Democrat Committee Chair Shanika Amarakoon and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley issued a statement condemning Marchand’s campaign.

“We cannot let our local elections be undermined by national-style political tactics. The city councilors who were attacked, after all, are our neighbors. While we may not agree with all of their decisions, they did not deserve this attack, and we do not stand for it,” Amarakoon and Buckley wrote.

In Pursuit of ‘Diversity,’ Portsmouth Kills Columbus Day, Keeps Indigenous People’s Day

Bowing to pressure from a group of “woke” high school activists, the Portsmouth City Council voted to cancel Columbus Day.

For years, the seacoast city known for its liberal politics has recognized both Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day on the same date — traditionally October 12. But at Monday night’s council meeting, students with Portsmouth High School’s We Speak club for social justice activism complained that accommodating Columbus Day and the history it celebrates was intolerable.

Olivia Annunziata Blaisdell, with We Speak, called the dual celebrations inadequate and insulting. Emily Stokel, another student with We Speak, said it was time to stop honoring Columbus.

“Continuing to celebrate Christopher Columbus, who committed serious atrocities and massacres among the indigenous populations he encountered is unjust and cruel,” Stokel said.

Mayor Deaglan McEachern said the vote was about honoring the people who came before the city was founded 400 years ago. Portsmouth was home to Abenaki and Wabanaki people.

“We are a nation of immigrants, but it’s good to remember there were people here before us, especially here in Portsmouth,” McEachern.

Critics wondered why the city could not continue to observe both days, why one had to be embraced and the other excluded.

City Councilor Beth Moreau was the only no vote on the measure, saying she feared the change would be a disservice to the city’s Italian American residents.

Christopher Columbus is a symbol of the important role Catholics have played in this country going back to before the founding,” said Michael McDonald, communications director with the Catholic League. “Attempts to cancel Columbus Day are more than just canceling the legacy of some 15th Century explorer. It sends a message to Catholics that they have a diminished role in the American experience.”

Columbus was adopted as a patron for Catholic Italian immigrants in the 1880s. The Italians connected to Columbus as they sought to be accepted as Americans. In the 1920s, Columbus Day celebrations were at times violently opposed by the Ku Klux Klan due to its hatred of Catholics.

Opponents of Columbus Day claim celebrating Europeans arriving in the New World is tantamount to celebrating slavery, bigotry and genocide. Activists like Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The 1619 Project, have gone so far as to claim the true founding of America should be dated to the arrival of the first African slaves brought to the continent.

Historians note, however, that slavery, ritual human sacrifice and even cannibalism were practiced by the peoples of the Americas before Europeans arrived. In fact, the Abenaki and Wabanaki are believed to have taken the land they inhabited by violently driving out tribes affiliated with the Iroquois

There is no text to the resolution, as the council was voting on the We Speak request to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The matter was introduced as a motion from the council to vote on as an action item.

The Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America has been working for years to save Columbus Day from cancellation. The group says the holiday is about celebrating the best in America.

“Columbus celebrates the beginning of cultural exchange between America and Europe. After Columbus, millions of European immigrants brought their art, music, science, medicine, philosophy and religious principles to America. These contributions have helped shape the United States and include Greek democracy, Roman law, Judeo-Christian ethics and the belief that all men are created equal,” the group states.

In an attempt at accommodation earlier this year, state Rep. Jess Edwards (R-Auburn) sponsored legislation declaring August 9 Indigenous People’s Day, to coincide with the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Progressive activists opposed it, insisting –as the Portsmouth students did — that eliminating Columbus Day was their priority.

“We can’t be honoring violence,” said Asma Elhuni, a leading member of the Granite State’s progressive BIPOC community.

McEachern understands people might have different opinions about keeping the celebration, but he said removing Columbus Day does not harm Italian Americans.

“It doesn’t take away anything from anyone to recognize that to be a nation of immigrants means there were people here before us,” McEachern said.

Sudden School Closures Leave NH Parents Reeling

School districts across the Granite State are putting families’ lives in a state of flux, and increasing parents’ frustrations as they face last-minute school closings.

Nashua parents were informed late Friday there will be no school this coming Monday or Tuesday after close to 200 teachers called out from work.

“The Nashua School District continues to fail its students,” said Alicia Houston, a mother and activist who has butted heads with the district since the start of COVID lockdowns.

Nashua’s Interim Superintendent Garth McKinney sent a letter on Friday stating school is canceled on Jan. 11 and 12 as there will not be enough teachers in the buildings.

“We are alarmed with the high number of staff absences across our schools these last few days,” McKinney wrote.

The Nashua district employs more than 1,000 teachers who are members of the Nashua Teachers Union. Union Vice President Gary Hoffman isn’t sure why approximately 20 percent of the district’s union teaching staff is calling out, but he suspects COVID.

“I am not sure. We’re trying to find out. I assume it’s Covid related mostly,” Hoffman said in an email.

Houston said this is par for the course for the Nashua District, which has not shown enough concern about what shutdowns do to working parents and children. 

“Since March of 2020, the focus has not been on the education of the children and their academic success,” Houston said. “The reasoning behind the mass call out remains unclear. However, very bad timing is creating a very poor optic for some Nashua parents. When will the focus be brought back to the best interest of the students and their learning?”

Nashua School Board member Ray Guarino blamed Gov. Chris Sununu for the shutdowns in a Facebook post.

“Governor Sununu ordered all districts back to school and we had no backup plan as delta and omicron began to surge. We should have done better by our students, teachers, and their families. I would hope that we at least make plans for a remote option,” Guarino wrote.

Parents, on the other hand, have expressed frustration with school systems and teachers unions pushing to keep classrooms closed. Data show remote learning has been an academic disaster, particularly for low-income families and students of color.

Nashua parents are not alone dealing with uncertainty about their schools’ policies. Dover’s School District warned parents this week to be prepared for shutdowns, as the closures may be announced at the last minute.

Dover Superintendent William Harbron wrote to parents that staff shortages due to COVID might shut down individual schools within the district. With no options available for remote learning, parents were told to be ready with a backup plan in case of a closure.

“I fully understand this is not the news you would like to hear,” Harbron wrote in the email.

Contacted Friday. Harbron expressed sympathy for parents who are struggling with the possibility of sudden school closures.

It’s not just closure parents need to watch for. In some municipalities, mask mandates for public spaces are coming fast. While cities like Keene and Nashua voted on new mask mandates in recent weeks, Portsmouth’s City Manager Karen Conard issued a unilateral directive on Friday ordering masks be worn indoors by everyone over the age of five.

“Given the current metrics relative to percent positivity and hospitalization utilization due to COVID, the health officer has determined that in order to protect the public health, proper face coverings must be used in all publicly accessible indoor areas and places of employment,” Conard said in a statement released Friday.

Conard based her decision on a recommendation from the city’s Health Department. While the city directive does not apply to schools, Portsmouth public school students have already been wearing masks indoors at school this year, according to district policy.