The hand-lettered sign advertising “Croissant sandwiches” is the only concession to the 1980s in Martha’s Sweet Shoppe and Luncheonette on Main Street in Nashua, N.H. But in every other way, Martha’s—with its greasy grill and soda fountain—provides the traditional Americana setting so coveted as a backdrop by political candidates. In fact, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis chose to unofficially kick off his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by posing for photographs in Martha’s last March 21. And several other presidential hopefuls have taken their cam-
paigns past its doors on the city’s sole major downtown street.
But Main Street, with its New England red stone buildings and luncheonettes is about all that is old-fashioned in Nashua. Once a decaying mill town, Nashua has become a high-tech centre of computer and electronics firms. Indeed, the prosperous city of 78,000 in many ways symbolizes modern New Hampshire—a traditionally conservative state, which is facing the pressures of dramatic growth. Now, as the second largest city in the state, which holds the first—and symbolically significant—primary on Feb. 16,
Nashua is at the centre of national attention. Said Stephen Crystal, the local co-ordinator for the front-running Dukakis: “Nashua voters are concerned about national affairs like war and peace and economic opportunities, not just regional issues.”
Indeed, the 1988 presidential campaigns are wooing Nashua’s high-income, well-educated professionals. Many of them recently fled the adjacent state of Massachusetts to avoid high taxes. The exodus started in the 1970s when firms moved to New Hampshire—where no sales or state income taxes applied—and set up in Nashua’s abandoned textile mills along the Merrimack and Nashua Rivers. Since then, Nashua has come to rival
nearby Manchester as the state’s financial centre and is expected to pass it as its largest city by the year 2010. In fact, the combination of a low crime rate and a 2.7-per-cent unemployment level last year led Money magazine to rank Nashua as the best U.S. city to live in.
But troubles have accompanied growth. Housing is expensive and in short supply, and urban sprawl has created severe traffic congestion. That has generated demands among many residents for government action, a sentiment that runs counter to the traditional antigovernment, individualistic values best expressed by the state’s licence-plate motto: “Live free or die.” Said Republican Representative Judd
Gregg: “It used to be that you took your own garbage to the dump and you didn’t expect government to put street lights in front of your house.”
Although out-of-state immigrants are slowly altering the state’s political profile, New Hampshirites remain largely conservative in principle and Republican on voting day. Still, James Donchess, Nashua’s ambitious 38-yearold mayor, is a Democrat. He is also from Illinois, having moved to Nashua in 1976, and symbolizes Nashua’s newfound big-city attitudes. “If it can elect an outsider as mayor,” said Donchess, “then Nashua is no longer a small town.”
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