Occasional Reports, Notes and Commentaries on the Road to the White House
The Merrimack Parade: "I did a lot of verbal flogging to keep things moving."
 by Tom Mahon, parade organizer, edited by Eric M. Appleman
July 8, 1999--

What is the history behind Merrimack's 4th of July parade?

The 4th of July Parade started over 25 years ago as a Chamber of Commerce event.  The Town had gone through a period of very fast growth and the Chamber was trying to build the business base. The event was organized by Dr. Dwight Damon, a chiropractor and entertainment agent. 

He gave up the project in 1997. By then the Town was paying for most of the expenses and the 4th of July was a town function. That means it must comply with the Right-to-Know law. Doc wasn't interested in posting meetings and preparing minutes. He was used to running it out of his house and car.

The first year I remember a presidential candidate was 1992 when Bob Dole showed up.

What are the rules for candidate appearing in the parade?

I set up a rule about riding and not walking. ALL the candidates screamed like stuck pigs. Amherst tried the same thing. In the end we let them walk because of assurances that they would move along. They lied in my case. In addition, there was a media horde. 

Did you have a rule, as Amherst did, to try to limit the size of the entourage who could appear in the parade itself with the candidate?

I learned from the Bush campaign that the Dole campaign had sent a fax to recruit supporters that they intended to bus to events. When I called Dole HQ they told me they had 30 and were going for 50. I told every campaign 10. Then, I did not count. The Bush campaign brought their crowd and stationed them along the route at about five locations. This provided noise at strategic places and photo ops for the press and his film crew. Dole seems to have done about the same. There were small pockets of supporters for the other candidates along the route that did not seem to be as organized.
How did you determine the order of the candidates?
The Federated Republican Women's Club asked us to put them first and all candidates behind them in alphabetical order. We complied with their reasonable request. The Bush and Dole folks were nonplused. They wanted to draw lots as in Amherst. I told them "No Way!" They backed off.

Describe the scene...

Bush had his own film crew who was filming footage for political ads. He had a calliope and horse drawn wagon. His security detail was quite noticeable in their beige vests. I had no inkling that I would be discussing security issues with the Texas Rangers when I signed on in 1997!  They were very professional and easy to deal with. The NH campaign coordinator had no control over the entourage. 

They brought in a moving horde of supporters (reminded me of locusts swooping about a corn field) which they placed strategically along the route to provide photo ops. There was even a Lone Star Lemonade stand at the half way turn. They had about 20 young men running up and down the route ahead of the Bush group slapping stickers on anything that moved.  Since there were a lot of kids in the audience, they were easy marks. Kids love stickers even if they have no idea who this guy is. So the large campaign chest showed. 

The Governor is a seasoned campaigner and took a lot of opportunities to have his picture taken with kids, cops and other members of the public along the route. Bush was running from one side of the street to the other. No doubt the man is in great physical condition. I'm sure a pedometer would have shown him covering 2.5 miles on a 1 mile route.

There was a large media contingent. Some of the still photogs had six cameras slung over their shoulders on a hot and muggy day. (We were saved by the overcast which lasted until just after the parade was over. It saved a lot of people from heat stroke.) I did a lot of verbal flogging to keep things moving. We had asked not to have literature handed out. R-i-i-i-ight! as Cosby would say. About halfway through, I talked to one of the media types and wondered if the calliope had Elgar's "Coronation March" on the player roll. I thought he was going to die laughing. That was the impression the Bush campaign was trying to deliver. The conservatives up here are whining and bleating about being left out. At the end of the parade, there was general picture taking and "impromptu" press conference.

The Dole campaign was not as large. They only had two or three vehicles, about twenty supporters with bright yellow balloons and an antique fire truck. Elizabeth was "miked" to a p.a. system on her vehicle. I don't know if she walked the whole route, but suspect that she did and used the p.a. to talk to the crowd.  A nice touch but people seemed exhausted after the Bush frenzy passed.

Bauer, Buchanan and a member of the Forbes family were here but had small contingents. Quayle and Smith had contingents in the parade as did Al Gore. The NY Times reporter noted that we had spelled Quayle wrong on our Order of March, but opined that was okay since he (Quayle) couldn't spell either.

Some people liked having the candidates and others did not. The national press picked up on the Amherst parade. A more picturesque setting.

In hindsight do you wish you had stuck to your guns on riding, or would that have deprived the world of the amusing spectacle you describe?

Some New Hampshireites feel slighted if there is not some attention associated with the Primary. Yes, it MIGHT have deprived them of the spectacle. I realized early on that I had limited control and only pushed it to that limit. I was much less agitated than some people. In reality, the parade moved at what I would call a reasonable pace. Bush hit his escape route 40 minutes after the start. Not bad for a one mile route, with all the associated hoorah. The reaction on the sidelines was mixed. One businessman (a staunch Republican, I might add.) came out of his store and told Bush to get moving because he was spoiling a family event. Other spectators, especially the women, were thrilled at having shook Bush's hand or having a picture taken with a candidate. (JFK is probably rolling over in his grave on that one.)

Merrimack has a population of about 25,000 and covers 27 sq. miles along the Merrimack River north of Nashua. Over 30% of the population has four year college degrees. The larger employers are Fidelity Investments, PC Connection, Cabletron, Lockheed-Sanders, Anheuser-Busch Brewery and Unitrode, although over 70% of the employed population works elsewhere. The per capita income is in the top 20 in the state. Amherst, Hollis and Bedford have higher rates and touch on Merrimack.--Tom Mahon


Copyright 1999  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.