In an election year where Republicans ruled, Derry followed the state and national lead, returning six Republican state reps to their seats and adding four. Two, Richard Tripp and Brenda Willis, are new to the State House, while Pat Dowling and Frank Sapareto have served before.
Derry Democrats mounted five candidates, two of whom have high public profiles and local name recognition, but they were not able to stop the Republican momentum.
The following vote totals were won:
Phyllis Katsakiores, who served 38 years with her late husband George and came back to the House last term, led with 7,659 votes. Brenda Willis, a longtime Derry School Board member, was second with 7,248, followed by incumbent John O’Connor with 7,182. Patricia Dowling, a longtime former Rep, will go back to Concord after earning 7,071 votes. Incumbent Jim Webb gained 7,014 votes to return to the House. Brian Chirichiello, an incumbent who also serves as Derry Town Council chair, received 6,885 votes. Frank Sapareto, who served several terms as a Rep and one as a state Senator, will return to the House with 6,483 votes. Richard Tripp, a Derry Town Councilor and VFW member, gained 6,360 votes for his first term in the House. Incumbent David Milz received 6,339 votes and incumbent Bob Fesh received 5,938.
Democrats, Deborah J. Cuenca, 5,426, Mary Eisner, 5,892, Scott Jones, 5,359, Mary Till, 5,644 and Ronald Jonathan Cooper III, 4,853. Republican and current rep John Potucek received 163 write-in votes.
Of the five Democrats, Mary Eisner was the closest to challenging the Republicans with 5,892 votes. She was followed by former Democratic Rep Mary Till with 5,644 votes, Deborah J. Cuenca, 5,426; Scott Jones, 5,359; and Ronald Jonathan Cooper, a college student and the youngest Derry State Rep candidate, with 4,853.
Republican and current rep John Potucek ran an aggressive write-in campaign and received 163 write-in votes.
A sampling of the successful candidates on the next day revealed relief, resolve and rejoicing over a Republican win.
O’Connor, 68, is a retired executive with the dairy industry. The next legislative session will be his fourth term as a Rep.
“I am very excited to be continuing on,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The House was expected to meet in caucus on Thursday and to assign committees. O’Connor said he would like to stay on the Agriculture and Environment Committee, of which he is vice-chair, and to move into the chair’s position as the current chair did not seek reelection. He’s also interested in anything to do with the budget.
In regards to the Republican sweep of the Presidency, New Hampshire governorship and his own town, O’Connor said, “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
O’Connor said that the state had been “deeply divided” under Gov. Maggie Hassan. With a Republican governor, newly-elected Chris Sununu, and a majority in the House and Senate, he said he hoped to see the state move forward and move forward economically.
There’s also some shoring-up to do, he said, noting, “The retirement benefits have a $2 billion hole. We need to address that.”
Sapareto, 56, is a financial adviser and served one term as a state Senator and six as a Representative. He took a break but came back in for this election cycle and won.
When he gets to Concord Sapareto plans a run for Speaker of the House. He’s deeply concerned about the recent “Dover decision,” which removed the cap on state education aid and could cost Derry dearly. “It’s a similar situation to 20 years ago, when I first ran,” he said. If he doesn’t get the Speaker role he hopes to be assigned to the Ways and Means Committee, and will focus on issues that affect Derry.
Sapareto attributed the Republican wins to national frustration. “From Derry to across the country, people are upset about the direction we’ve been traveling,” he said.
While Sapareto is returning to the House after an absence, Derry Town Councilor Richard Tripp will be a freshman Rep. “It will be interesting and I’ll enjoy the challenge,” the retired engineer and veteran said.
Tripp was honest about the learning curve, noting, “I’ll have to see how things are done, and then see what needs to be done.”
Tripp would like to be assigned to the Ways and Means Committee, but admitted that probably wouldn’t happen to a freshman.
He was “surprised none of the Democrats got in,” Tripp said.
Brian Chirichiello, also a Derry Town Councilor, was an incumbent. “It feels great,” he said as he looked forward to another term.
Chirichiello, a veteran at running, noted that he was surprised none of the five Democrats made the cut. “Usually in a Presidential election, we see more Democrats get in,” he observed. For example, Town Moderator Mary Till, a Democrat, was elected to a term during a Presidential season. More Democrats in Derry are usually elected during a Presidential election because more Democrats turn out, according to Chirichiello. “This election,” he said, “changed the tide of that.”
Chirichiello has been on the Transportation Committee for two terms. “I’d like to try something new,” he said.
Of the Trump win Chirichiello said simply, “He is not a politician, and people wanted change.” He also credited the “change” factor with Chris Sununu’s win of the Concord corner office.
Mary Eisner, chair of the Derry Democratic Party, was also a candidate for Representative. “I am disappointed,” she admitted. “As chair of a party, I can say that we always strive to have equal representation. The democratic (small d) process works better when we have different views on the table.”
However, Eisner had nothing but praise for the turnout. “It was incredible,” she said. “It’s a tribute to our whole system of democracy.”
Eisner, also a poll volunteer at town elections, mused, “I wish all our elections would reach an 80 percent turnout, or even higher.”