Saturday, February 9, 2008

The other Super Tuesday -- State Senate Free for All

While most of the country was following the presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, there was a huge story breaking in local politics. Long time state Senator Bob Antonioni announced that he was retiring from the Senate. The announcement will most likely touch off a free-for-all for the open seat, with the fallout tricking down to probably two or more open seats in the House of Representatives.

There have been no fewer than nine potential candidates mentioned in the media and on local blogs, including five Democrats, two Republicans, and two unenrolled contenders. Here's a first look at how the race could shake out, with my rankings.

1. Rep. Jennifer Flanagan (Leominster)
2. Rep. Harold Naughton (Clinton)
3. Former Rep. Brian Knuttilla (Gardner)
4. Rep. Stephen DiNatale (Fitchburg)
5. Stephen Kerrigan (Lancaster)

Rep. Flanagan has already announced that she is running to replace Antonioni and has won the Senator's endorsement. The combination of the endorsement and her popularity in Leominster, the largest city in the district, should make her the front runner. However, she has not been seriously challenged in her two races and she will most likely be tested more significantly than she has to this point in her young career.

Rep. Naughton has served seven terms in the state house, done a tour of duty in Iraq as an Army reservist and it is rumored that "he's been doing some fairly seriously job hunting of late." He is very popular in his House district, which encompasses most of the Southern and Eastern part of the Senate territory. He also has the support of Gardner Rep. Robert Rice.

Knuttila, Rice's predecessor in the State House, has also announced the formation of an exploratory committee. He left his seat at the state house to work for Sheriff Guy Glodis, one of the more powerful figures in Worcester County. He is expected to announce his candidacy next week.

Rep. Di Natale is in his first term in the state house. While he has a natural base in Fitchburg, he may not have the clout across the district. I'd expect him to decide against a race for Senate and seek easy reelection to the House.

Kerrigan was a longtime aide to Senator Ted Kennedy and came up short in an attempt to garner the Democratic nomination to U. S. Congress in the fifth district's special election last fall. If Naughton is in the Senate race, I expect Kerrigan to focus on his open house seat.

1. Former Mayor Dan Mylott (Fitchburg)
2. Gregg Lisciotti (Leominster)

I am listing Mylott ahead of Liscotti only because I don't think Liscotti will run. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Mylott might have a strong base in Fitchburg, having won a number of elections in the city. He would have experience running a campaign and would have an organization in place. But the city tired of him by the end of his last term and he clashed frequently with the city council and school committee.

Lisciotti is one of the wealthiest, most powerful developers in the region. He could campaign as a successful businessman who has the experience in the private sector that the state house needs in a time of economic uncertainty. He also would have nearly unlimited resources to run a campaign and is based in the district's largest city. But Lisciotti isn't the most popular figure in Leominster by any means, with some townspeople (especially in the Eastern part of the city) resentful of his Orchard Park shopping center. Ultimately, I don't think he will put aside his development business to run for office.

1. Mayor Dean Mazzarella (Leominster)
2. Councilor Claire Freda (Leominster)

Mazzarella is the wild card in the race. He is extraordinarily popular in Leominster and has been mayor for 14 years. He is also not up for reelection this fall, so he could run without anything to lose--he'll either be State Senator or Mayor in 2009 one way or the other. While he is unenrolled, he leans Republican, having supported Mitt Romney in 2002 and run interference on behalf of Kerry Healey in 2006. If he ran as a Republican, he would probably have clear sailing to the nomination, but part of his appeal is that he is unenrolled and can claim that he is not beholden to any other party. I think he'll be on the general election ballot as an unenrolled candidate.

The other potential unenrolled candidate is City Councilor Freda, who has twice failed to defeat Flanagan in races for her house seat. In 2004, she ran in the Democratic primary and lost, in 2006 she dropped out of the Democratic party in an attempt to avoid Flanagan until the general (and because she claimed that the Democratic party wasn't the "party [she] grew up with"). I think she'd get trounced in a Senate election, but might have a shot running for the seat Flanagan will vacate. Ultimately, I think she'll stay away from this race, and concentrate on the house.

Which would make her one of at least four candidates for Flanagan's seat, as three Democrats have already signaled their intent to run in the primary. And if Naughton declares, there will be another open seat in the region.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment


No Drumlins Copyright © 2009 Premium Blogger Dashboard Designed by SAER