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Primary fights for open seats claim spotlight north of Boston

The 2012 state election season is hitting full stride as Democrats and Republicans hold primaries Thursday to choose candidates for the Nov. 6 state election.

While the high-profile slugfests for the White House and US Senate may be foremost in the minds of area voters, the local spotlight this week will be on intra-party bouts in several area districts where the seats are open.

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Among them are Democratic and Republican contests for the state Senate seat held by Methuen Democrat Steven A. Baddour until he resigned in April, and a GOP primary in the state House district of retiring West Newbury Democrat Harriett L. Stanley. Republicans see both seats as potential pickups.

“Those two districts are definitely on our radar,” said Tim Buckley, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican Party. He said the party has targeted the districts based on the votes for GOP candidates in various races, including the 2010 governor’s contest.

There is also a spirited Democratic race in the state Senate district of retiring Peabody Democrat Frederick E. Berry. The primary carries special weight because the winner will be the likely favorite in November for a seat long held by the party.

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“I feel very comfortable that a Democrat will be our next state senator,” said Arthur Powell, a Democratic State Committee member from Beverly, citing the strength of the primary field and the past support district voters have given to Democrats.

All told, there will be 23 area primaries on the ballot, 13 of them for state legislative seats, three for Congress, and seven for other regional seats.

An uncertain dynamic in the races is how turnout might be affected by the state’s decision to hold this year’s primary on a Thursday rather than the usual Tuesday.

Newburyport City Clerk Richard Jones does not believe the unusual timing of the primary will have a significant impact on turnout.

“I don’t think people say, ‘It’s Tuesday, I think I’ll vote.’ I think they vote because they realize it’s election day,” he said.

Andover Town Clerk Larry Murphy said his concern is less that the primary is on a Thursday than it takes place the same week as Labor Day.

“People aren’t used to coming out on a Thursday,” he said. “But Thursday is certainly better than Tuesday after Labor Day.” 

The Democratic fight for Berry’s Second Essex District state Senate seat is a wide-open tussle featuring three well-known political figures: Joan B. Lovely of Salem, and Mary-Ellen Manning and John P. Slattery, both of Peabody.  

Lovely is an eight-term member and current president of the Salem City Council. Manning is a six-term governor’s councilor. Slattery is a former four-term state representative and city councilor who has lost bids for lieutenant governor and mayor.

The three are vying in the Democratic primary with former governor’s councilor Edward J. Carroll of Salem. Richard A. Jolitz of Beverly, who lost to Berry two years ago, is unopposed in the GOP primary.

Powell, the Democratic State Committee member from Beverly, who has not taken sides, said the outcome of the Democratic race is difficult to predict.

“There are three strong candidates all working very hard,” he said.

The Democratic race for Baddour’s former First Essex Senate seat features former three-term Methuen mayor William M. Manzi III, former three-term Newburyport city councilor at large Kathleen A. O’Connor Ives; and Timothy J. Coco, a business owner from Haverhill.

Manzi, with his strong base in Methuen, appears the favorite. He also has the backing of mayors Donna D. Holaday of Newburyport and Stephen N. Zanni of Methuen. But Ives is a visible figure in Newburyport from her City Council service, and Coco is known in Haverhill from his business and community work.

Louis Masiello, chairman of the Salisbury Democratic Town Committee, said it is not clear which, if any, candidate has the edge.

“You’ve got one candidate from Haverhill, one from Methuen, and one from Newburyport. Each has got their base of support,” said Masiello, who is not publicly backing any candidate.

Contending in the GOP contest for Baddour’s seat are Sam S. Meas of Haverhill, who lost a 2010 special election for a congressional seat, and Shaun P. Toohey, a Haverhill School Committee member.

Toohey enjoys name recognition as an elected official in Haverhill, and Meas has been an active community volunteer. Toohey may benefit from the support of his father-in-law, Haverhill City Councilor and former mayor William H. Ryan.  The primary winners will vie in the final election with two unenrolled candidates, Amesbury City Councilor James M. Kelcourse and Haverhill School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti.

GOP contenders for Stanley’s Second Essex House seat are Bob Cronin of Boxford, Georgetown Selectman Gary C. Fowler, and Lenny Mirra of West Newbury. 

Fowler is the only current elected official, but Cronin has been a Revere city councilor and a member of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Mirra has been on the Groveland Conservation Commission. The winner will face West Newbury Democrat Barry P. Fogel in the final.

“I think it’s fairly competitive,” said Linda Allen, who is chairwoman of the Newbury Republican Town Committee and has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

The Democratic primary for the 21st Middlesex House seat now held by Burlington Democrat Charles A. Murphy also has stirred interest since the three active contenders — David Fionda and Virginia E. Mooney, both of Burlington, and Kenneth Gordon of Bedford all are running write-in campaigns.

Murphy announced in June he was not seeking reelection and would resign July 31 to take a job in the private sector. Fionda and Mooney, and more recently Gordon, jumped into the race, but as write-in candidates because it was too late to make the ballot.

Murphy, who has since decided to complete his term, remains on the ballot even though he is not running.

Mooney is a longtime Burlington Town Meeting representative and former selectwoman. Fionda, a business consultant and former Town Meeting representative, has landed Murphy’s endorsement. Gordon is chairman of Bedford’s Cultural Council and vice chairman of its Zoning Board of Appeals. Burlington Selectman Walter Zenkin is running unopposed as a write-in candidate in the GOP primary.

In another notable primary, six candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination for the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds post long held by Eugene C. Brune, a Democrat from Somerville, who is retiring.  

Three of the contenders are from Somerville, making the city a focus of attention in the wide-open race. Those candidates are Alderwoman Maryann M. Heuston; Maria C. Curtatone, an attorney who is the sister of Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone; and Robert B. Antonelli, who was elected Middlesex Register of Probate in 1996 but removed from the post by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1999 for mistreating employees and abusing his authority.

They are joined on the ballot by Frank J. Ciano, an Arlington Town Meeting member, former Newton mayor Thomas B. Concannon Jr., and Wakefield Selectman Tiziano Doto.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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