A wide-open race to succeed former state senator Steven Baddour is kicking into gear, as seven candidates appeal to voters on issues ranging from jobs to welfare reform.
Three Democrats, two Republicans, and two unenrolled candidates are competing for the Merrimack Valley seat that became vacant when Baddour, a Methuen Democrat, resigned March 26 to join an international law firm with a Boston office.
The race marks the first open contest in a decade in the First Essex district, which includes Amesbury, Haverhill, Merrimac, Methuen, Newburyport, Salisbury, and part of North Andover. Also attracting the spotlight to the race is the perceived strength of the field, all of whose contenders have served in government, been active civic volunteers, or both.
“This race has attracted a lot of good candidates. . . . All of them bring a lot to the table. I think it's going to be good,” said James P. Jajuga, a Methuen Democrat who formerly held the seat.
The initial focus in the race is the Democratic and Republican primaries, set for Sept. 6.
The Democratic contenders are former Methuen mayor William M. Manzi III, Newburyport City Councilor at Large Kathleen A. O’Connor Ives, and Tim Coco, a business owner from Haverhill. The Republicans are Sam S. Meas, of Haverhill, who lost a 2010 special election bid for Congress, and Shaun P. Toohey, a Haverhill School Committee member.
The primary winners will vie in the Nov. 6 final election with the two unenrolled candidates, Amesbury Councilor at Large James M. Kelcourse, and Haverhill School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti.
As a former mayor, Manzi would appear to be an early favorite. He has also picked up two key endorsements, from mayors Donna D. Holaday of Newburyport and Stephen N. Zanni of Methuen.
But all of the contenders are energetically reaching out to voters, and Manzi is not the only one to have prominent backing. Ives has the endorsement of state Representative Michael A. Costello, a Newburyport Democrat, while Toohey has the support of Haverhill City Councilor and former mayor William H. Ryan, who is his father-in-law.
A former city councilor, Manzi left office as mayor in January after three terms, having been precluded from running again by term limits.
He said his record as mayor shows “I have a great ability to hit the ground running as senator. “I have a history of strong fiscal management and great labor relations. I conducted over 30 collective bargaining agreements.”
Manzi said he would work “to create a climate where we foster economic development and most importantly, jobs.” He said he would also continue the work he did as mayor to advocate for cities and towns.
Ives, who is a lawyer, put her law practice on hold earlier this year to launch an online retail business.
“I want to build a coalition among the district’s cities and towns so we can leverage our voices to address our challenges,” she said, “using my background as a city councilor with a record of consensus-building and getting legislation passed.”
Ives would like to eliminate “corporate loopholes and giveaways” and target the resulting freed-up resources for needs such as public education, public transportation, and infrastructure.
A former local newspaper and radio reporter, Coco owns an advertising and public relations firm and is president of the nonprofit that runs WHAV, an Internet, cable television, and low-power AM radio station.
“I'm not a career politician. I've never run for office,” he said. “I'm a business owner, with a level of common sense, and an Independent. . . . I have been very deeply involved in my community my entire life.”
He said he would advocate for local schools, and seek to eliminate unwarranted corporate tax breaks. He would also be an advocate for small businesses.
Meas, who came to the United States in 1986 as a refugee from Cambodia, works for a business consulting firm and owns a grocery store in Lynn. He has been an active volunteer, including currently as a board member of a Buddhist temple in Lowell.
“I'm a business owner. I'm an independent thinker,” he said. “I don't always go with what's acceptable and what's popular at the moment.”
“I want to bring balance of power in government,” he said, citing the need for more Republicans in a Legislature long dominated by Democrats. He said he would work to roll back the income and sales taxes to 5 percent and cut regulations to help small businesses.
Toohey works as a mortgage banker and owns a sales and marketing business. In addition to serving on the School Committee, he represents Haverhill on the Whittier Regional Vocational Tech School District Committee.
“My business background and my political service here in Haverhill would allow me to be an efficient and productive member of the Senate because it's all about fiscal discipline,” Toohey said. “I bring to the table being a fiscal conservative, being transparent and accessible.”
He said he would work to curb spending and to adopt further measures to prevent the abuse of electronic benefits cards by welfare recipients.
A lawyer who formerly worked for his family's machine shop, Magliocchetti has been active with community organizations in Haverhill.
He said he would work to help small manufacturing businesses to survive and grow, saying “manufacturing is the key to a strong economy.”
He said he would also work to improve education, including by giving teachers more decision-making authority, and to bring reforms to the state's welfare system.
Kelcourse, a former Amesbury Planning Board member, has his own law practice in Amesbury.
“I'm a business-minded individual who is fiscally responsible,” he said. “I'm very moderate on other issues.” He said he is also the “most well rounded of the candidates” in terms of background, experience, and education.
His priority would be “getting people back to work, growing this economy,” Kelcourse said. Another goal would be to ease the property tax burden on residents in the district's seven communities.