With the filing period for Keene’s municipal elections nearly over, the 2021 races for mayor and City Council are taking shape. And ahead of November’s general election, there will be at least one primary race on the ballot next month.
The period for filing by declaration ended Tuesday, and the period for filing by petition, in which candidates avoid a fee by gathering signatures from registered voters, ends Friday. As of Wednesday afternoon, three people had filed to run for mayor, two for Ward 2 councilor and eight for one of five open councilor at-large positions. Meanwhile, those who filed for council seats in Wards 1, 3, 4 and 5 are so far running unopposed.
The only primary race on tap at this point for Oct. 5 is the mayoral contest, with three candidates that will need to be whittled down to two. Incumbent Mayor George Hansel filed to run for another two-year term Tuesday and faces challenges from Mark J. Zuchowski, a retired engineer who filed last week, and Aria DiMezzo, who also filed on Tuesday.
In an interview with The Sentinel last week, Zuchowski said he wants to serve as mayor to give a voice to the people of Keene and also address veterans’ issues and the spread of misinformation, particularly around the pandemic. During an address at city hall Tuesday, Hansel said if he wins another term, he’d like to focus on needs like infrastructure updates and increasing the stock of affordable housing in the area.
DiMezzo made national news last year when, as a self-described “transsexual anarchist Satanist,” she won the uncontested Republican primary in the Cheshire County sheriff’s race but later lost to Democratic incumbent Eli Rivera.
DiMezzo, 34, said Wednesday that running for office is something she does for fun but noted that she’d like to use the campaign as a way to bring attention to issues that are important to her.
Some of these include enhancing police accountability and working to prevent overreach by the federal government. She also pointed to Keene’s high property taxes, saying she’d like to go beyond just lowering them. Paying property taxes makes homeowners “glorified renters,” DiMezzo said. “If you don’t pay the taxes, then the city or the state takes your house.”
DiMezzo is facing multiple charges stemming from what federal prosecutors describe as an unlicensed scheme to sell cryptocurrency.
In the Ward 2 race for City Council, longtime incumbent Councilor Mitch Greenwald, of Greenwald Realty Associates, will face a challenge from Ryan Clancy, a Portland, Maine, native who works as the audience services manager at The Colonial Performing Arts Center.
However, the remaining ward councilor positions are so far uncontested. Ward 1 Councilor Janis Manwaring has announced that she will not seek re-election, and the only person to file to run for that seat to date this cycle is Robert Crowell.
Crowell, a 69-year-old lifelong resident of Keene, is a retired city fire captain who now works on call for the Troy Fire Department. If elected, he said some of his priorities would be continuing the city’s work to address climate change, increasing affordable housing options and lowering taxes, which he said would require attracting more business to Keene.
“The biggest thing right now is lowering the taxes,” he said. “And to do that, we need to get business and industry in here.” He added that the city should rethink the way it regulates businesses to make the area more attractive to companies looking to move here.
The Ward 3 councilor races are a bit unique this year, as both Ward 3 seats were vacated earlier in 2021. In February, then-Councilor Terry Clark stepped down from the role, and the council appointed Andrew Madison to take his place.
Madison is running to retain that seat, but in July, then-Councilor Mike Giacomo resigned his Ward 3 seat as well, after moving to a home on Hurricane Road. Bryan Lake, who was defeated by Madison in the appointment for Clark’s seat, has filed to run for Giacomo’s seat instead.
He will run in a special council election set to take place next week where councilors will choose an interim Ward 3 councilor. If he’s appointed, Lake will run again in the fall to keep the seat.
In Wards 4 and 5, incumbents Catherine Workman and Philip Jones are seeking re-election, but no one has filed to challenge them.
Meanwhile, the race for five councilor at-large positions has a full slate of candidates, though not yet the 11 needed for a primary. Four incumbents — Councilors Kate Bosley, Bettina Chadbourne, Randy Filiault and Michael Remy — are all seeking re-election, while Councilor Stephen Hooper has said he does not plan to run again.
Challengers in the councilor at-large race include Ian Freeman, Giacomo, Jodi Newell and Boston Parisi.
In a previous interview with The Sentinel, Giacomo, who was unsure at the time of his resignation whether he’d run again, said he decided to enter the race after taking some time to consider. If given a chance to return to the council, Giacomo said he’d like to focus on the city’s ongoing efforts to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newell, a Massachusetts native who has lived in Keene for over five years, where she's served on the board for Cheshire TV, said that she’s long been involved in politics on the national and state levels, but decided it was time to see how she could give back at the local level.
For years, Newell said she has been an advocate for those struggling with addiction, after losing a loved one to a drug overdose 13 years ago. She’s also said she's been a vocal advocate for transparency in campaign finance.
Parisi was not reachable for comment.
Freeman, 41, is a well-known libertarian activist and currently on home confinement after being charged in connection with the same cryptocurrency exchange as DiMezzo. Freeman’s charges include money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Freeman said he was required to get permission before leaving his home to file for office and that he is able to seek and serve in a government position unless he is convicted. He said he expects his trial to begin in May.
Among his priorities Freeman listed returning the city’s BearCat, an armored vehicle used by the Keene Police Department, to its manufacturer. The city received a federal grant to purchase the machine in 2012, drawing controversy as many people questioned why the department would need a military-style vehicle.
Freeman also advocated for cutting down police enforcement of what he described as “prohibitions” in Keene, saying he’d like to see the city “make enforcement of the war on drugs and any other victimless crimes the lowest police priority.” He also said he’s in favor of reducing city bureaucracy — including eliminating Keene’s parking department — and exploring the idea of making property taxes voluntary and allowing people to pay into city programs of their choice.
Those who are interested in filing to run in Keene’s municipal elections can continue to do so by petition only through Friday. Candidates filing by petition need to collect signatures from 50 registered Keene voters.
Keene’s primary election is scheduled for Oct. 5, and the general election will be Nov. 2.
In addition to the council and mayor races, several people have filed to run for various elections-officer positions.
This story has been updated with comments from Jodi Newell after The Sentinel previously used incorrect contact information in attempts to reach her.