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Jun 8, 2016 4:00 PM

Gatsas calls on Sununu to apologize over drug crisis comments

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD -- A war of words breaking out between Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who are rivals for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Speaking to reporters minutes after filing his candidacy for the Corner Office, Sununu was asked about the state’s efforts battling the heroin and opioid epidemic.

“No issue has had more lack of leadership, yet required more attention, that the opioid crisis. We have a thousand people, a thousand people, dead in the last two years. Over a thousand dead from this crisis. That’s a thousand families torn apart. That’s tens of thousands more that have drained their bank accounts and their 401Ks trying to get help for loved ones. This is an absolute crisis across the state and we’ve had no leadership in Concord, no leadership at the local level,” Sununu said.

That comment quickly triggered a counter attack from Manchester police chief Nick Willard, who took to Twitter to write “I can't believe this candidate would make such an idiotic statement. We, in Manchester have lead from the beginning!”

While the drug crisis reaches across the state, New Hampshire’s largest city is often in the spotlight when it comes to news about drug overdoses, crimes related to the substance abuse and misuse crisis, and recovery and treatment efforts.

Minutes after Willard’s tweet, Gatsas took to Twitter, saying he’s proud of Manchester’s “leadership on this issue. Disappointing that others refuse to acknowledge it.”

And in an accompanying statement, he called on Sununu to apologize.

“Anybody who criticizes the efforts of those who keep us safe and combat this devastating epidemic should be called out. Councilor Sununu’s comments were unfortunate and failed to recognize the heroic efforts that take place at the local level on a daily basis. He should retract his statement and apologize to the police officers, fire fighters and members of the recovery community who are saving lives and getting results,” Gatsas wrote.

The Sununu campaign responded to Gatsas.

"The problems associated with the drug crisis are not about police officers and fire fighters and those who are on the front lines of this issue every day and are working hard to save lives. The ineffectiveness in which this epidemic has been managed stems from a lack of leadership in the Governor's Office. Those elected to lead our cities and state have the ultimate responsibility to exert leadership on this issue. Denying you have a problem, hiding behind others and deferring responsibility are the actions of career politicians who have failed our families again and again on the scourge of opioids in New Hampshire," campaign spokesman David Abrams wrote in a statement.

Gatsas spoke one-on-one with NH1 News later in the evening, at his campaign kickoff event in Manchester.

"I think I was clear. I don’t have a spokesman speak for me. I speak about what I feel from my heart. I think when people make those comments they should absolutely apologize," Gatsas said.

"He should retract his statement and apologize to the police officers, fire fighters and members of the recovery community who are saving lives and getting results," he added.

Sununu's proposals

In speaking with reporters, Sununu talked about what he would do to combat the crisis if he were in the Corner Office.

"My program looks at much stronger preventative programs, specifically in schools. Look, my fourth grader, my fifth grader, I tell you they’re going to be offered alcohol, marijuana, pills in the next five years. And that is a hard thing for a parent to accept. But I just know it’s going happen. So we need to be aggressive, much more aggressive, with our programs in schools," Sununu explained.

And Sununu, who's chief operating office of the Waterville Valley Resort, also proposed helping out businesses.

"High risk work areas: food and beverage, construction, there are certain areas that are just much more prevalent, where opioids and drugs are much more prevalent. Let’s give them the resources that they need to also help themselves. We’ve installed some workplace initiative programs at Waterville Valley because we don’t have some of the resources you have here down south. I want to bring those type of ideas that I’ve already implemented in business across the state to other employers in the state so they have the tools to identify and provide the right help for their employees."

Asked how much his ideas would cost, Sununu said "it’s definitely more money, it’s definitely more funding."

"Anyone who thinks that we don’t need some more funding into this issue is crazy. We’ve done well but every day we see the numbers get worse and worse," he added.

"You have to prioritize, and sure it does mean some shifting of resources, it means some hard decisions, and not everyone is going to like the outcome," he explained.

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