Robert Francis Shaw, a plain-tongued antitax populist who went from gas station owner to mayor of New Hampshire's biggest city to quixotic gubernatorial candidate tilting at the state's political power elite, died yesterday in a car crash on Interstate 93 in Manchester, N.H., police said. He was 70.
Police said Mr. Shaw's station wagon apparently stalled south of Exit 6 when a car driven by James Powell, 71, of Manchester struck the northbound vehicle. Powell was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Before finding his voice in politics, Mr. Shaw had a variety of careers, including dime-store assistant manager and dental equipment repairman. In 1963, he bought a Mobil store and built it into a prosperous Manchester service station.
When he decided to run for mayor of Manchester in 1983, the odds were stacked against him. He had never held public office, and he ran as a Republican in a city that was strongly Democratic. Another obstacle, pundits and oldtime observers claimed, was his Irish heritage in a city essentially run by Franco-Americans.
Riding an antitax platform, the blunt-speaking candidate proved the local prognosticators wrong. In the Republican primary in 1984, Mr. Shaw defeated Robert Pariseau, a city alderman whose father was a popular mayor of the city. In the general election, he ousted incumbent Emile Beaulieu.
"Everyone said there was no way Bob Shaw could be elected mayor because the city is two to one Democrat. But I knew they were all taxpayers," Mr. Shaw said.
While in office, he computerized city operations and developed several initiatives to cut the long lines for the public at city offices. He also took some credit for Manchester's building boom and the high-rise buildings that now dominate the skyline.
Always first among his priorities, he said, was tax relief. In his City Hall office, he hung a sign: "Every dollar spent by this government comes from the pocket of a working American. Our challenge is to act as if it were our own."
He was reelected in 1986, winning 60 percent of the vote and sweeping every ward.
Even in a city known for its sharp-elbowed politics, Mr. Shaw stood out for his combativeness. And his peppery voice increasingly targeted Governor John Sununu, a fellow Republican. "My experience as mayor of Manchester taught me that we live in a state in which problems are delegated to our local governments and revenues are delegated to the state treasury," Mr. Shaw said.
He shocked New Hampshire Republicans by announcing his intention to unseat Sununu in 1988, running on a plank attacking tax increases and the controversial Seabrook nuclear power plant.
When Sununu decided not to seek another term, Judd Gregg threw his hat in the ring. Outspent 10 to 1, Mr. Shaw ran as an outsider, a devoted man of the people who likes to irritate, as he put it, "everybody but the taxpayers."
This time, the odds won. Gregg handily defeated Mr. Shaw before winning the general election.
The Portland, Maine, native and Korean War veteran leaves his wife, Lorraine (Moreau) of Westbrook, Maine; four children; and 11 grandchildren.