Steven A. Baddour’s surprise resignation from the state Senate has triggered a wide-open race for his Merrimack Valley seat, with three local mayors, a former mayor, and a former state senator weighing runs.
Baddour, a Methuen Democrat who first won his seat in a 2002 special election, announced on March 26 that he was resigning to accept a partnership position at McDermott, Will & Emery, an international law firm with a Boston office.
His announcement has sparked a flurry of speculation about who might jump into the race, the first open contest in a decade in the First Essex District, which covers Amesbury, Haverhill, Merrimac, Methuen, Newburyport, Salisbury, and part of North Andover.
Methuen City Councilor Sean Fountain took out nomination papers and said he plans to run for the seat, which will be filled in the November election.
In interviews, nine others said they are considering entering the race, including mayors James J. Fiorentini of Haverhill, Thatcher W. Kezer III of Amesbury, and Donna D. Holaday of Newburyport; former mayor William M. Manzi III of Methuen, and former state senator James P. Jajuga of Methuen, all Democrats.
Others who said they might run are Amesbury City Councilor Jim Kelcourse, who is unenrolled; and three Republicans: Haverhill School Committee member Shaun Toohey; Sam Meas of Haverhill; and Al DiNuccio of Methuen. Meas lost a special election bid for the 5th District congressional seat in 2005; DiNuccio ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2009 and 2011 and for state representative in 2010.
A North Andover firefighter, Fountain is in his first term as a west district councilor in Methuen.
“I saw the opportunity there and it’s something I always aspired to,’’ he said. “I think people are looking for new candidates.’’
Fiorentini, who lost a previous bid for mayor against Jajuga in 1994, said of a potential run this year: “I’m taking a look at it, but I won’t make up my mind for a few weeks. I like what I do, so I’m torn.’’
“I’m kicking the tires,’’ Kezer said. “Running for the Senate was not something I contemplated. I’m very happy being the mayor of Amesbury. . . . But when something like this comes along, it’s worth taking a look at.’’
“I’m considering it,’’ Holaday said. “I love my job and I have so many things going on here in the city. But these opportunities do not present themselves very often.’’
Manzi left office as Methuen’s mayor in January after three terms, having been precluded from seeking reelection due to term limits. He is currently a declared candidate for Northern Essex Register of Deeds.
“I’m continuing on in the process of collecting signatures’’ for his register of deeds run, Manzi said. “But with this sudden news, obviously I would have to take a look at’’ running for Senate.
Jajuga served in the Senate from 1990 until 2001, when he left to become state public safety secretary. Since 2007, he has been president and CEO of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. He has announced plans to resign June 30 from that job, or earlier if a replacement can be found.
“I was surprised,’’ Jajuga said of Baddour’s decision. “Since I was made aware of it, I have been looking at the landscape, talking to some of my former supporters and my possible future supporters. . . . I’m thinking about it.’’
Kelcourse, a lawyer, has taken out papers for the Senate seat and said he is “90 to 95 percent sure’’ he will be running.
“I really enjoy public service,’’ he said. “It’s something I’ve taken quite a liking to as a city councilor in Amesbury. And I think the opportunity to run for senator is certainly a good one.’’
Toohey works as a mortgage banker and owns a sales and marketing business. He has taken papers out for the Senate seat but has not yet made a firm decision to run.
“I have to make sure from a personal and professional perspective that I can commit to it 100 percent,’’ he said. But Toohey said the probability he will run is “extremely high.’’
Meas, a native of Cambodia who works as an independent representative for a power supply company, said: “I have spoken to many people. At the present time, I have not made a decision one way or another.’’
DiNuccio, a businessman, said: “I’m considering it. I’m letting the smoke settle a little, seeing how the field plays out. . . . Open seats are always tempting.’’
Baddour, whose resignation took effect on Monday, said he has not had second thoughts.
“It obviously was a tough decision. . . . It’s been a great 10 years. But there comes a time when you need to turn the page and start a new chapter. That’s what I’m doing,’’ he said.
“When you have a preeminent law firm like McDermott, Will & Emery putting up an offer, it’s very difficult to say no. Opportunities like those don’t come along that often,’’ he added.
Prior to entering the Legislature, Baddour worked as a private attorney and as assistant attorney general. He has maintained a small law practice during his years in the Senate.
Baddour recalled that when he first ran for the Senate, he pledged to “remain independent, to look at the issues - and not necessarily who is behind the issues - and do right by my district.’’ He said he takes satisfaction in having lived up to that promise.
The former senator said he is unlikely to back a candidate in the race. He had some advice for whoever gets in, though.
“Get ready for a long summer,’’ he joked. “It’s a lot of work. There are seven communities. Get ready to have seven hometowns.’’