BEVERLY — As US Representative Seth Moulton campaigned for president last summer, Angus McQuilken began working to replace him in Congress.
On Saturday afternoon, McQuilken, 50, made it official with a campaign kickoff in Beverly where a reference to Moulton was a punch line.
“People want a member of Congress who will show up in their community and play a visible role in their community. They want a member of Congress who will be a reliable, progressive vote and voice on issues in front of the US Congress. They want a member of Congress who will focus on the job they have now, and not on the job they want next,” said McQuilken, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “I see you laughing about that. You know what I’m talking about.”
McQuilken, a Topsfield resident with a long history of working on Democratic and progressive causes, is among three Democrats challenging Moulton, 41, who is seeking a fourth term. The other challengers are Jamie Belsito, of Topsfield, a mental health advocate and trustee at Salem State University, and Nathaniel Mulcahy, a Rockport resident and founder of WorldStove, which produces environmentally friendly cookstoves.
Candidates must collect signatures from 2,000 registered voters in the district by May 5 to qualify for the primary ballot. McQuilken said his campaign has collected about half of the required signatures. The state primary is Sept. 1.
McQuilken last ran for public office in 2004 when he campaigned unsuccessfully to fill the state Senate seat vacated by his former boss, Cheryl Jacques, a Needham Democrat and the first openly gay woman to serve in the Massachusetts Senate.
In a special election and general election held after Jacques resigned, McQuilken was defeated by Republican Scott Brown, then a state representative from Wrentham.
After the losses, McQuilken worked for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. He is currently a business development executive for the law firm McDermott Will & Emery.
In 2013, McQuilken cofounded the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, an umbrella organization that includes more than 100 groups.
He held his congressional campaign kickoff event at a work-share office where a trio of women offered remarks: Dolly McIlvaine, cofounder of Hands Up for Gun Safety; Martha Farmer, founder and former chief executive of North Shore InnoVentures, an incubator; and McQuilken’s wife, Diann. The couple married last October and they are raising four children.
“I’m an advocate and that’s how I know most of you,” McQuilken told an audience of about 50 people. “I’ve spent the past 30 years building coalitions of support of people who care about change and want to see change happen in our community.”
He said his advocacy work has helped enact legislation that made it easier for people to register to vote, mandated access to emergency contraception in hospital emergency departments for rape victims, and banned assault weapons in Massachusetts.
Preventing gun violence is among six issues McQuilken vows to focus on during the campaign. He said the 2012 deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School inspired the formation of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.
“I want to be the member of Congress who will not take no for an answer on meaningful and effective national gun laws,” he said.
The latest figures from the Federal Election Commission show McQuilken has nearly $19,000 in his campaign account. Moulton, a Salem resident, has more than $407,000, according to FEC data.
Michaela Johnson, a spokeswoman for Moulton’s reelection campaign and his political action committee, Serve America, said Moulton “is the product of a primary and believes they’re good for our democracy.”
“He’s looking forward to running on his record of getting things done for the people he represents, fighting to fix our broken government, and recruiting a new generation of leaders who are holding the line against Donald Trump,” Johnson said in a statement.
Moulton and McQuilken share common ground on their votes in the presidential primary, which was held last Tuesday.
Moulton endorsed former vice president Joe Biden in January. In an interview Saturday, McQuilken said he decided at the last minute to vote for Biden, though he has not publicly endorsed a candidate.
“After a lot of consideration, I decided in the end that Joe Biden has the best chance as the Democratic nominee to defeat Donald Trump and restore integrity to the White House,” he said.
McQuilken said he’s also voted for Moulton in the past, saying he always votes for the Democratic nominee in general elections.
Michelle Ridgley of Peabody, who brought her 18-year-old daughter, Alicia, to the event, said she met McQuilken last year.
She said she was disappointed when Moulton opposed Nancy Pelosi’s bid to resume her role as House speaker after the 2018 midterm elections.
“Guess what. Thank God [Pelosi] is the leader of the House. She is amazing,” Ridgley said.
Mike Ciampa, of Lynn, said he backed former US Representative John Tierney when Moulton defeated him in the 2014 Democratic primary and now supports McQuilken. Moulton’s opposition to Pelosi also bothered him, Ciampa said.
“It made me mad," he said. "It rubbed me the wrong way.”