Remembering Dad and Where I’m From

I came across this article today.   Dad died 5 years ago this September and today, October 20th would have been his 90th birthday. Every day I wonder what his thinking would be about our current political climate… and so much more.  He always had a way of saying just a few words that really made you think.  As I reread this I reconnect with so many values and beliefs he instilled in me without even trying.

Having grown up amidst campaign offices I can recall the excitement in the air of a possible win and the heaviness of an impending loss.  As kids we stuffed envelopes and spent late nights at the Wayfarer waiting for elections results to come in.  The idea that he changed from Republican to Democrat for the betterment of all speaks volumes about who he was and what he stood for.  He was more interested in the greater good than individual notoriety.  I wish there was more of this in our world.

So today, in your honor,  I will prepare your favorite birthday meal with some homemade mac and cheese with hot dogs on the side and of course ice cream for dessert.  Just so wish you were to to have it with us.

Miss you Dad.

 

Article about my father Don Madden, which appeared in Boston Globe, August 6, 1989

A GENIUS FOR THE RIGHT WORD

Publisher-Democrat strategist wins wide respect

By Peg Boyles, Special to the Globe, 1989

Manchester – A teddy bear of a man, grizzled, slightly rumpled, affable, with a distracted air and a habit of speaking in mumbled phrases– Don Madden seems an unlikely genius.

But business associates, friends and political insiders describe the 61-year-old publisher of the New Hampshire Business Review as a creative genius, especially recalling him as the brilliant political strategist whose media and advertising work were substantially responsible for getting a string of New Hampshire democrats elected to high office from the early 1960’s through the late 1970s.

These associates say Madden’s accomplishments have been obscured by his pronounced distaste for self-promotion, and that others have taken credit for many of his ideas.

“Don Madden is an under-stated, self-contained, non-assertive, brilliant guy,” says Bill Dunfey, co-founder of the Dunfey hotel chain (now the Omni) vice-president of the Dunfey Group and a leading Democratic activist.

Dunfey and Madden met at the University of New Hampshire in the early 1950s, when Madden edited the college newspaper and Dunfey was writing his thesis for his master’s degree on how to organize the state’s Democratic party.

Dunfey says of Madden: “He’s a brilliant conceptualizer, a quick study who can listen to what you’re trying to do and come up with a simple, straightforward idea that cuts through the complications.  It doesn’t sound like much when he first talks about it, but when he gets it down on paper, you suddenly see it’s far superior to anything else you’ve got.  Don’s so quiet and non-aggressive, so different from other political consultants. New candidates never liked him; other ad agencies never knew what to make of him.”

Republican strategists also came to respect Madden. “He understands real people.  He’s very good at analyzing the public mood,” says Marshall Cobleigh, former speaker of the State House of Representatives who later served as aide to Gov. Meldrim Thomson.  “He’s highly respected in the business.  You know you’re in trouble when he’s on the other side.”

In fact, none of the nearly 30 people interviewed concerning Madden had anything negative to say about the publisher-political strategist.

Raised in Antrim, Madden received a degree in English from UNH in 1956, interrupting his studies between 1952 and 1956 to serve as an officer in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict.

After a brief stint as a reporter for the Rutland (Vt.) Herald, he returned to Hillsborough in 1957 to start a weekly newspaper, the Tri-Town Yankee.

“It was a Republican newspaper,” Madden says.  “I was a Republican then.  I’d grown up in a Republican environment – in those days, to be a Democrat was to be a clown.”

 

Strong competition

     In fact, his decision to join forces with the struggling New Hampshire Democrats was derived less from partisan zeal than from “my strong belief that the state was hamstrung with a one-party system.  We need strong competition among political ideas.  If I lived in Massachusetts today, I’d probably be a Republican.”

Madden sold the Hillsborough paper in 1960 and worked as a news editor for Boston radio station WBZ for a few months before accepting an invitation from Dunfey to run the media campaign for Romeo V. Champagne’s unsuccessful 1961 run for Congress from New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

Meanwhile, Madden was pursuing his dream of starting a Manchester newspaper to provide some counterpoint to the dominance of the ultra-conservative Union Leader.

“It’s difficult to overstate the power of the Union Leader in the days before TV, when radio stations were weaker and there were many fewer print publications,” he says.“It wasn’t so much {the late William} Loeb’s twisted editorials as the paper’s absolute power to determine which issues would even get talked about.  Very few decision-makers ever realized the full extent of that power.”

Madden pulled together $50,000 from 10 investors and started the Manchester Free Press in1961.  He ran the paper on a shoestring budget, writing news and editorials, editing and selling advertising himself.  After he married in 1963, his wife, Mary Lee, handled all the design and paste-up work.

“The best thing I had going then was my column, `The Black Cat.’ It was political gossip, written in a whimsical style.  I offered it half-price to 27 dailies around New Hampshire if they’d agree to fill out a weekly questionnaire.  I’d ask for any good local stuff they had, get them to poll local decision-makers on issues of statewide importance.”

 

Column widely read

     At one point, Madden says, the column had a combined circulation of 60,000, rivaling that of the Union Leader.

Though his paper’s circulation gradually climbed to 10,000, the Free Press never got off the ground in the advertising marketplace dominated by the Union Leader, Madden says. Lack of secure financing, utter exhaustion and the feeling his  doing little to undercut Loeb’s hegemony forced Madden to fold the Free Press in 1965.

Trading on his knowledge of the state’s press, politics and people, Madden opened a small advertising agency, Madden Associates. All along he had been doing political work for Democrats – Tom McIntyre, John King, Ollie Huot and others – and through his agency handled commercial accounts.  Madden says that for the next 14 years, “I made a lot of money from politics.”

“With McIntyre, we were the first to put 90 percent of our budget into radio.  My reasoning was simple: In a newspaper, people have to seek out your ad.  With radio, there’s no escape.

“I told McIntyre,`Use Loeb as your backboard. Don’t kowtow to him.’ So we blasted him at every opportunity.  The only print media we used was the Union Leader.  In those days they ran front-page advertising and we poured money into the front page, mostly taking editorials from other newspapers and running them as political ads.”

 

Successful radio ads

     Observers agree that Madden’s most significant achievement in politics was the series of radio ads widely credited with sparking voters to elect John Durkin over Louis Wyman for the U.S. Senate in 1975.

“I remember the first time I met Don.  He seemed like your typical New Hampshire Yankee, like most anyone you’d meet deer hunting,” says Durkin who came to regard Madden as “the most brilliant political strategist in New Hampshire, without equal in either party.”

“Louis Wyman was the toughest Republican of them all. People thought he was unbeatable,” says Durkin. “Well, Louis had had a cocktail fund-raiser in Washington, and the list of attendees read like a who’s-who of corporate America.  Those were the days of the Arab oil embargo.  There’d been hikes in food prices.  The state had 8 ½ percent unemployment.

“Don’s most memorable ad had a smooth voice speaking over the tinkling of a cocktail piano and the murmur of voices. `Guests at a recent cocktail fund-raiser for Louis Wyman included representatives of the following companies …’ You’d hear the sound of a cash register opening, and the voice said, `These companies don’t have much to do with New Hampshire, but they sure have a lot to do with the price of gasoline, bread and sugar.’

“The ads were devastating. We carried every area that had a local radio station,” says Durkin.

As the 1970s drew to a close, Madden faded from politics. “When McIntyre lost and then Hugh Gallen, I felt we’d come to the end of a cycle,” Madden says.

He moved back into publishing in 1979, buying a failed monthly tabloid called the New Hampshire Business World.  Madden changed the name to the New Hampshire Business Review, and in typical workhorse style, he and his wife ran the paper alone the first few years.

The first year, the Business Review appeared monthly and grossed $75,000.  Today, Madden’s company, Business Publications, Inc., publishes the biweekly Business Review and the slick monthly magazine Manchester – with circulations of 15,000 and 14,000 respectively.  The company also handles about 30 special projects annually and is a $2 million operation with 25 employees.

Though Madden is nervous about the recent economic downturn, he has plans to introduce “a major new regional publication” early next year.

Response to the Business Review has been enthusiastic among New Hampshire business people.

“The paper has made an enormous impact on New Hampshire. It was a pioneering effort – prior to it, there was no statewide business publication, no comprehensive coverage of New Hampshire business news,” says Mark Bodi, the former vice president of retail banking at Numerica Savings Bank.  Bodi recently became head of corporate relations for the Manchester advertising agency of O’Neil, Griffin Associates.

“Don combines a realistic amount of hard hitting business news with a vehicle for companies to promote their products and services,” Bodi says.

Much as he disliked the organizational side of politics, Madden says he hates “the business of business.  Here I am bogged down managing three sales forces, turning up new accounts, chasing accounts receivable.  I wish I were bigger so I could afford to hire someone to do what I do. What I like to do is talk to people, write, come up with ideas.”

Madden still prefers keeping his profile low.  “It’s not modesty,” he says adding “I like to see things work.  I don’t care if I see my name in the paper.”

Madden’s views on N.H. issues

On the New Hampshire economy: “It’s a real phenomenon. Everything has ground to a halt. Suddenly everyone has stopped spending, even though we’ve got the lowest unemployment in the country.

“One of the worst things the banks ever did is come up with the idea of home equity loans.  When times are good, people spend a lot; then they’ve locked into payments for all those years.  Add that to five-year car payments, the high cost of housing.  People are spent up to the hilt.

“The banks did everything they tell their customers not to do. They overbuilt a whole market. Here they are, building $200,000 and $300,000 houses when here’s a tremendous pent-up demand for $100,000 houses. We’ve got to do something to stimulate construction of low, and moderately priced housing.  It hurts the whole system when you start shutting so many people out.”

On broad-based taxes:“The voters of New Hampshire do not want a sales or income tax.  The voter knows the new tax won’t lower his property tax, and it won’t go to pay for the services the politicians says it will.  Instead, it’ll pay for 200 new jobs in Concord and 500 pet projects on hold in the Legislature.  Being against taxes is like a religion here.  You can’t beat it.  It is going to take a monumental crisis to change the state’s tax structure.”

On growth: “Controlled growth is a nice-sounding phrase, but it doesn’t mean much.  I once had a theory on controlling growth.  You’d simply make it against the law ever to widen a street, road or highway. If you wanted to increase traffic flow, you’d have to build a parallel road.  Of course that didn’t happen and it’s too late now.”

On politics: “All campaigns should be three sentences long. Anchor your campaign in two or three simple issues, hammer at those and let the rest fall where they may.”

On New Hampshire Democrats: “Republicans have forever gotten elected on three things: No new taxes, local control and the mystical quality of life.  Democrats say, `If that’s what Republicans are for, we’ve got to be for something else. We’ve got to go out and educate the voters about what they really need.’

There are a dozen good issues out there that can elect Democrats. Take something as simple as parking meters, which have nothing at all to do with parking, but everything to do with raising revenue.  Parking fines are really getting under   of the average voter.

“And how come with all this quality of life, women are no longer safe in shopping center parking lots?  Why don’t we have public access to our lakes anymore?  Why has the cost of housing gotten so far out of reach for the average wage-earner?  Child care, elder care, these are all good issues for Democrats.  Democrats should be getting themselves elected on things that people want.  Instead of lecturing voters and trying to educate them on what they should want.”

Madden’s thought on politics

On the Romeo Champagne campaign for Congress, 1961: “We did something unusual in that campaign.  We put the AP wire in at campaign headquarters, so we knew in advance what the papers would be carrying that day.  That gave us a tremendous advantage, being prepared with a response instead of having to react to what we read in the papers.”

On the McIntyre campaign for U.S. Senate, 1962: “My approach was always to take a simple idea and present it in a way people could understand.  For instance, with McIntyre, we had a woman taking a dress out of her washing machine to find it had disintegrated.  Then a voice said, `This wouldn’t happen today because of the new law that requires manufacturers to print washing instructions on the label of every garment.’ Tom McIntyre wrote that law.  Ever notice the way people who take care of the small things have a way of doing the big things well?”

Lyndon B. Johnson write-in {During the New Hampshire presidential primary of 1968}: “LBJ refused to campaign.  Here he is running for president, but we have no candidate, no one to see, hear, touch.  We have to have some sort of symbol of him, something for people to do.  I got this idea of the pledge cards – having people sign a card promising to write in his name on the ballot.”

The issue became a political embarrassment.  “But the incredible thing is that even though the Johnson people publicly disavowed the whole thing, the White House used to call my office every day if the cards didn’t arrive on time.  “What can the president possibly want with them?” I’d ask, and his aide replied, `What can I say? The man likes to sit and fondle ‘em.’

“Johnson ended up with 49 percent of the vote to 41 percent for {Eugene J.}  McCarthy. The press called it a loss, but I think it was a monumental win.  He won the popular election never having been in the state.”

On the 1978 Hugh Gallen/Meldrim Thomson campaign: “Mel Thomson’s support of Seabrook was the one time Thomson was on the wrong side of a consumer issue.  We hammered that issue and said “If Seabrook comes on line, your electric rates will double or triple.  It was very effective.”

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