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Second Essex

Stanley says no to 10th term

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / December 1, 2011
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In 1994, a little-known Merrimac Democrat made local political news when she upset an incumbent Republican state representative for a seat long held by the GOP.

Now, after 17 years representing the Second Essex District, Harriett L. Stanley is preparing to exit the political stage. Stanley, who resides now in West Newbury, reaffirmed this past week her decision announced last year not to seek a 10th term next year.

“There is a season for everyone, and mine is coming to an end,’’ Stanley, 61, said this week.

Some supporters have encouraged her to reconsider, but “I think I’m pretty well known for when my mind is made up, it’s made up,’’ she said. “The charge of flip-flopping has never been applied to me.’’

Her pending departure from the Legislature has spurred speculation in the district about who might run for the seat.

The Second Essex currently includes Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, Rowley, and West Newbury and parts of Georgetown and Haverhill. Under the newly approved House redistricting plan, effective with the next term it will pick up the remainder of Georgetown and part of Boxford, and lose Rowley and part of Haverhill.

Stanley said she has had private conversations the last few weeks with a number of prospective candidates for the seat.

“There’s no lack of interest,’’ she said.

Barry Fogel, a West Newbury Democrat and a member of the town’s Conservation Commission, said this past week that he plans to run for the seat.

“I formed a committee and started the process,’’ said Fogel, a lawyer and a member of the West Newbury Democratic Town Committee.

With the end of her tenure approaching, Stanley said her focus is on “getting projects moving along, getting them done while I’m still here.’’

One of those projects is the construction now underway of a new Groveland Bridge to replace the existing span over the Merrimack River between Groveland and Haverhill. Another is the effort to rebuild or convert to a recreational path the currently closed River Road in Merrimac.

As of yet, Stanley, a Virginia native and former Wall Street investment banker, has no firm plans for what she will do when her term ends.

“I am not retiring. I do not have a retiring personality. I will be doing something else. What it is right now I don’t know. I’m not worrying about it. What happens will happen. I will be active in something,’’ she said.

Stanley’s legislative career has had some notable highs and lows.

“I’ve been up and down here so I know all sides of it,’’ she reflected.

In just her second year, in 1996, Stanley was named by then-House Speaker Thomas Finneran to the influential House Ways and Means Committee. In 1997, Finneran elevated Stanley to assistant vice chairwoman of Ways and Means, making her the first woman to attain a leadership post on the panel. Then in 2001, she was named House chairwoman of the Health Care Committee.

But in February 2003, Finneran removed Stanley from her chairmanship, a demotion that Stanley attributed to her clashes with leadership over campaign finance reform, a 2002 tax increase, and other issues.

In 2009, Stanley was tapped by the new speaker, Robert A. DeLeo, as House chairwoman of the Health Care Financing Committee. But early this year, DeLeo bounced her from that post due to what Stanley said were differences over issues.

Despite the two demotions, Stanley said, she has no hard feelings, observing: “That’s the way things happen around here. If you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t be here.’’

“I’m very fond of saying if Tom Finneran had not given me the opportunity on Ways and Means like he did, I wouldn’t know enough to disagree’’ on issues, Stanley said. “The same could be said about Bob DeLeo. If he had not given me the opportunity on Health Care Financing, I wouldn’t know enough to disagree with some of his policies.’’

Stanley faced personal adversity in late 2001 when she underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. The operation was successful, and Stanley said she is healthy today, with some equilibrium problems as the only residual effect of the surgery.

Looking back, Stanley said she takes satisfaction in the “return on investment for my district’ she has been able to provide. She estimates that by the time she leaves, she will have delivered more than $100 million in state dollars to her communities that they would not have otherwise received through normal funding distributions.

Stanley said it was also rewarding to her to have been “able to see some truly great people at close range,’’ recalling having “shared tea’’ with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and having “shared champagne’’ with Margaret Marshall, the former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

State Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat, said Stanley’s “solid independent streak’’ has been one of her defining traits in the Legislature.

“What I’ve admired most about her is her ability to put aside party affiliation and do what she thought was right for the people she represents,’’ he said, observing that Stanley also brings “an amazing understanding of not only the budget, but of health care. She’s been a leader in a lot of different areas.’’

State Representative Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, also praised Stanley for her independence, and called her an effective advocate for the overall region.

“I don’t think there’s been any better voice for Merrimack Valley issues and certainly North Shore issues than Harriett,’’ he said.

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