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Marchand set to be e-mayor in N.H.

Portsmouth leader assesses challenges

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Meeting Steve Marchand at Café Espresso seems redundant.

The 31-year-old new mayor of this Seacoast city appears naturally caffeinated even at 7:30 on a frigid, gray Tuesday morning. He's full of youthful enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

''I want my city to be the model of political and municipal leadership in the state within five years," he says, passing on coffee but ordering pancakes.

''I think there's a general sense that I'm a straight shooter, that I'm pretty analytical, that I try to make decisions based on merit, that I'll try to create as good a government as possible," he says.

''Government should be accountable, it should be fair, and it should be open. If you are those three things, you do get a lot done."

In Portsmouth, the top finisher in each City Council election becomes the mayor for two years. Marchand, already serving his first term as councilor, ran an extensive door-to-door campaign and won in November with 2,734 votes, 496 ahead of his nearest challenger. He will be sworn in tomorrow to replace four-term Mayor Evelyn Sirrell, who did not seek reelection.

''If you look at the results of this past election," Marchand says, ''out of the top five finishers, four of the five are what you'd call working age, college-educated, basically white collar-type professionals. This is a far cry from what the majority of the council has been. Five of the nine councilors are either entering their first or second term. This is new terrain in a lot of ways, and I think it's not coincidence."

Like many bright New Hampshire youngsters, Marchand's interest in politics was kindled by close encounters during presidential primary season.

''Basically my memory goes back to Jimmy Carter," he says.

His resume includes four years as class president at Goffstown High School and bachelor's and master's degrees in public administration from Syracuse University. He audited municipal governments for a consulting firm and worked with the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan watchdog organization founded by former senators Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman.

''Paul Tsongas is my political role model -- that's where my ideology was sharpened."

Expect a big stylistic change from the administration of Sirrell, a grandmother and former meter maid known as ''The People's Mayor."

Marchand, associate state director for community outreach at the AARP in Manchester, won't be able to keep the daily ''open door" office hours that were a hallmark of Sirrell's tenure.

''A lot of the folks that I meet with, in fact most of the folks that want to sit down and talk policy or politics, they're working 9-to-5 too. They couldn't do 10-to-2 office hours," he says.

''We'll forward the mayor's direct line to my cell. I would argue in a lot of ways that I may be more accessible. E-mail will become an important part. It has not been a part of the mayor's office up till now."

Marchand has his own blue-collar roots, growing up on the west side of Manchester and in Goffstown. His parents are from Quebec -- he has dual citizenship -- and they still speak French at home, he says. Neither one graduated high school. His father works in construction. His mother worked in the mills of Manchester and later got a GED and opened her own home electrolysis business.

Marchand lives on Cass Street in Portsmouth with his wife, Sandi Hennequin, and their two daughters, Abbi, 2, and Maggie, 6 months. As New England representative for Constellation Energy, based in Maryland, Hennequin works from home and travels around the region.

''It is definitely a very full plate" for the couple, Hennequin says, but being flexible, communicating, and having ''backups for backups" in areas such as baby-sitting will get them through. ''I believe very strongly in what he's doing," she says of her husband.

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