By Doug Ireland
SALEM — Local Republicans turned out at a North Broadway restaurant yesterday to announce their support for the congressional candidate they said would best represent the district.
That candidate is Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, they said, and not Salem’s own Marilinda Garcia, a state representative accused by her colleagues of not representing her constituents.
Approximately a dozen state lawmakers from Salem and Windham and other elected officials backed Lambert during a press conference at Gourmet Bites Catering & Cafe.
Although Garcia wasn’t mentioned by name, Lambert’s supporters made it clear they have lost confidence in her.
The group included four of Salem’s eight state representatives and former Rep. Gary Azarian of Salem. Azarian resigned his seat earlier this year for personal reasons, but intends to run again in the September primary.
The lawmakers have criticized Garcia for not supporting expanded gaming legislation that could potentially bring a casino and hundreds of jobs to Rockingham Park in Salem.
Garcia did not return a call for comment, but spokesman Tom Szold issued a statement on her behalf. He said Garcia has always been open about her opposition to expanded gambling.
“It is unfortunate that Gary Lambert has chosen to go negative, and to attack Marilinda on an issue that Republicans generally believe should be dealt with on the local, not federal level,” he said. “As for the bill in question, Marilinda has always been 100 percent clear with her voters on where she stands.
Eighty-one percent of Salem residents who went to the polls in March 2013 supported a non-binding ballot question asking if they wanted a casino in town.
“A representative didn’t support what they wanted,” Azarian said, referring to Garcia. “It’s an issue of representation.”
The four Salem GOP representatives who attended the press conference — Robert Elliott, Ronald Belanger, Joseph Sweeney and Anne Priestley — said they backed Lambert because he’s the best choice to represent local residents.
“The people know he listens to them,” Elliott said. “He loves to listen to the people and he will not forget what they say.”
Garcia, her sister Rep. Bianca Garcia and Rep. Patrick Bick were the only state lawmakers from Salem who did not support expanded gambling legislation.
Rep. John Sytek has opposed expanded gambling, but said he supported casino legislation earlier this session because the majority of Salem voters have said they want gaming.
Sytek said yesterday he likes both Lambert and Marilinda Garcia, but is supporting Garcia because he believes she has the best chance of unseating Democratic incumbent Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster.
Windham GOP lawmakers who came to support Lambert included Reps. Bruce Breton, Mary Griffin and Walter Kolodziej.
Breton said revenue from expanded gambling — an issue Lambert said he strongly supports — is needed to help finish the Interstate 93 widening project.
“Not only will Gary listen to the wishes of the people of Salem and Windham,” Breton said, “but Gary will do what their wishes are.”
Several Salem town officials, including Selectman Stephen Campbell and Planning Board Chairman Edward DeClercq, also backed Lambert.
“I support Gary for his economic stands,” DeClercq said. “He believes expanded gaming will bring many jobs to Salem.
Lambert thanked the group for the support and said his main goal is to help create jobs if elected to Congress.
“I will fully support expanded gaming in Salem,” he said. “We cannot afford to say no to jobs. The people of Salem have spoken.”
Shortly after the press conference in Salem, representatives from Casino Free New Hampshire held their own event in support of Garcia at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, spokesman Henry Veilleux said.
Veilleux said it wasn’t an endorsement of Garcia, just a show of support for her vote in opposition of casino gambling.
“We applaud her,” Veilleux said. “I think her vote spoke volumes about her character and commitment to her values.”
Szold said neither he nor Garcia were able to attend the event in Concord.