Primary Source: Lebanon Democrats eye open Senate seat

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2020 9:28:32 PM
Modified: 5/13/2020 9:28:24 PM

Look for a crowded Democratic primary in the race for the open New Hampshire Senate seat that stretches from Lyme to Charlestown.

Concerned that Hanover-area Democrats might corner the seat again, at least three Lebanon city councilors, all of whom have served as mayor, are also considering running for the Senate District 5 seat.

Three Hanover or Lyme residents are also interested in running.

Outgoing state Sen. Martha Hennessey, the Hanover Democrat who is stepping down after two terms, this week said she is endorsing former state Rep. Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme.

Lebanon City Councilor Sue Prentiss said she is taking a “hard look” at running for the seat. A former moderate Republican, the 55-year-old Prentiss is now a registered Democrat and was a co-chairwoman of Pete Buttigieg’s New Hampshire presidential campaign.

Prentiss said her immediate priorities would include economic recovery, stabilization of the health care system and comprehensive tracking of the coronavirus to ensure there isn’t a new outbreak.

“As a career paramedic and former leader in the state EMS system spanning over 30 years, I have a unique view into the planning and implementation of solutions to complex challenges, such as COVID-19. I believe we are in this for the long haul, period,” Prentiss said via email.

The mayor of Lebanon from 2017 to 2019, she currently works as executive director of the American Trauma Society in the Washington suburbs but has the flexibility to work remotely, so going to Concord for the legislative session would not be a problem, she said.

Current Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara said he also is considering a run. The 64-year-old McNamara is currently an independent but said he would register as a Democrat if he decides to run.

Like Prentiss, he raised concerns that Lebanon, the largest city in the Upper Valley, not be left out of the equation in filling the seat, which is reliably Democratic and includes the communities of Lyme, Lebanon, Hanover, Enfield, Canaan, Plainfield, Cornish, Claremont and Charlestown.

“That seat has been held by Hanover folks,” McNamara said. “There hasn’t been anyone from Lebanon for a long time, and maybe it’s our turn.”

Although former state Sen. David Pierce, a Hanover Democrat, lived for a time in Lebanon before leaving the post in 2016, the last full-fledged Lebanon resident to hold the seat was Clifton Below, who opted not to run for reelection in 2004.

McNamara, who serves as the associate director of facilities, operations and management at Dartmouth College, noted that he has just been reelected to the City Council and that his “first responsibility is to the citizens of Lebanon,” which could factor against a state Senate bid.

Also considering a run is City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who served as mayor about a decade ago.

Liot Hill, who is 41, has been active in Democratic politics in New Hampshire and is keen on having a candidate from Lebanon. “I’m definitely thinking about it, but strongly encouraging Sue to run,” she said of Prentiss.

Hanover resident Steven Atkins, a clinical psychologist who has served as the chairman of the New Hampshire Board of Psychologists, this week also said he is leaning toward a state Senate run.

Atkins, 55, said he is a “die-hard Democrat’ and has been active on legislative issues, including matters related to telehealth. He said his expertise would help on areas ranging from substance abuse to Medicaid expansion in the wake of the pandemic.

“It’s becoming evident, now that we all have digested what is happening, that mental health issues, family, domestic violence, are going to be a huge concern for the next couple of years at least,” he said.

Last week, both Pastor and Hanover resident Jim Murphy, a retired Dartmouth-Hitchcock orthopedic surgeon, said they are interested in running.

Hennessey this week told the Valley News she was backing Pastor, a former three-term member of the House and a professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Dartmouth College.

Hennessey said Pastor’s legislative experience and work on environmental issues in the House provides a critical boost to working in the Senate, and said she also has “just the right combination of compassion and feistiness” to be effective.

“She’s an academic, so she understands we need to do our homework and study the issues, and also listen to ideas,” said Hennessey.

No Claremont-area Democrats have stepped forward to date, and Republicans in the Upper Valley also haven’t put a candidate forward but are likely to run someone.

The filing period runs from June 2 to 12.

Hanover openings

There are some other legislative seats opening up in the Hanover area. Polly Campion and Mary Jane Mulligan said they would not run again after both served two terms as state representatives.

Campion, 67, said the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the importance of devoting more attention to her family, including having more flexibility to help with child care needs. And Mulligan, 72, said the pandemic has “complicated my life” and that she needs to start focusing on downsizing and relocating.

The two Hanover Democrats are part of the four-seat Grafton 12 district representing Hanover and Lyme.

State Rep. Garrett Muscatel, a Dartmouth senior and a Democrat, is also not expected to run again, but Dartmouth sophomore Riley Gordon does plan to run.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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