State Representative John D. Keenan’s decision not to seek another term this fall has sparked new interest in the Seventh Essex seat.
Two candidates are already running, and a handful of others are considering whether to join the field.
This is the first time in a decade there has been an open race in the district, which covers the city of Salem. The last time was 2004, when Keenan was elected to succeed the late J. Michael Ruane, who had served for 15 terms.
In the immediate aftermath of Keenan’s announcement last month, Police Chief Paul Tucker, a Democrat, announced his candidacy.
“I’ve always had some interest in politics at some level,” said Tucker, who is in his 32d year with the police department. Prior to becoming chief in 2009, Tucker spent 17 years as a captain and chief of the detectives division.
Tucker said in his years in the department, he has acquired “a certain skill set I think is transferable to a state rep race: constituent services, problem solving, helping people. That’s what I’ve been for 32 years.”
“Certainly it would be tough to leave a job I basically spent my life in. . . but I also know in my heart it’s the right thing to do,” Tucker said.
Daniel Morris, a Salem State University sophomore, is also in the race. Morris, who said he had made plans to run even before Keenan’s announcement, is unenrolled but running under the banner of the Libertarian Party.
Morris serves as campus coordinator at Salem State for Students for Liberty, a group that provides training and other assistance to Libertarian groups at colleges and universities.
He said he is a candidate who is “willing to stop the increase in taxes and to make sure there is individual choice when it comes to things like schools and drugs.” He said his status as a third-party candidate means he would be controlled only by the voters.
Several others are considering running for the seat, including Grace Harrington, who has worked as a legislative aide to Keenan, a Salem Democrat, the past three years – the last year as chief of staff.
“I haven’t made any decisions yet. Right now, I‘m just taking the time to talk with people whose political instincts I trust, so I’m definitely taking a serious look at it,” said Harrington, a Democrat who will graduate in May from New England Law School, in Boston.
“I could bring a lot of hands-on experience to the position,” Harrington said. “I’ve been working on a lot of issues and projects that affect the city of Salem.”
Harrington comes from a prominent Salem political family. Her father, Neil J. Harrington, and her great-granduncle, the late Joseph B. Harrington, both served as mayor of Salem. Her grandfather, the late Kevin B. Harrington, was president of the state Senate. She is also a cousin of former US Representative Michael J. Harrington and of Nancy Harrington, a former president of Salem State.
Matt Veno, a Democrat and former Ward 5 councilor, is also weighing a run.
“I haven’t made up my mind but I’m definitely giving it some thought,” said Veno, a government relations manager for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Veno said he would bring “a real thorough understanding of the primary issues facing Salem from my time on the council,” adding that he has remained active as a member of the city’s Redevelopment Authority and on the board of the Salem Community Health Center.
City Council president Robert K. McCarthy said he, too, is considering a run.
A Democrat and self-employed contractor, McCarthy said he would bring to the table the active role he has played in the redevelopment of the Salem Harbor Power Station and the waterfront. He said he would also bring his seven years of experience as a councilor.
Former mayor Stanley J. Usovicz Jr., who has also been mentioned as a candidate, said he briefly considered the race but has ruled it out. “I have a son in college and a daughter who is a senior in high school and about to go to college, and my focus is on them,” he said.
Sean O’Brien, chairman of the Republican City Committee, said some Republicans have expressed interest to him about running “but at this point there is no candidate.”
For Keenan, meanwhile, his decision means at least a temporary break from a nearly 20-year stint in public service. He previously served as city solicitor and assistant city solicitor in Salem and as an assistant Essex district attorney.
“We decided it was a good time, given that we’ve accomplished what we wanted to have done in Salem,” he said, citing the completion of the new courthouse in Salem, elevating Salem State College to a university, and more recently the construction of the MBTA garage, and paving the way for the gas-fired plant to replace Salem Harbor Power Station.
Although he took some heat for it, Keenan said he had no regrets about using his perch as House chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy to advocate for the power plant.
“I sought the chairmanship of the committee to do what I could to make sure the project happened in my district. In my opinion, that’s what a representative is supposed to do,” he said.
Keenan, who has continued a law practice in Salem on a part-time basis during his legislative years, has no plans yet for what he will do after his term expires.
“I’m interested in looking at many different options,” said Keenan, who does not rule out a future run for office.