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Race for Berry’s Senate seat takes shape

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / December 18, 2011
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Just weeks after state Senate majority leader Frederick E. Berry announced his plan to retire after this term, what promises to be a spirited race to succeed the Peabody Democrat is underway.

Two other prominent Peabody Democrats, Governor’s Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning and former state representative John P. Slattery, both said last week they have decided to run in next fall’s election for the Second Essex seat Berry has held since 1983.

“I’m in,’’ said Manning, who announced her candidacy during a speaking engagement at the Salem Moose Family Center on Tuesday. She plans to hold a campaign kick-off in Peabody on Jan. 19.

“I’m going to be in the race,’’ Slattery said, noting discussions he has had with local mayors and state representatives in the district. “I talked to the money people you need to talk to, and I’m satisfied I will have the financial capacity and the political support that is sufficient to have a serious run at the seat.’’

Six others, including four Democrats and two Republicans, said last week they are considering running for the seat or have not ruled it out.

Other potential Democratic contenders are Peabody Mayor Michael J. Bonfanti, Salem Councilor at Large Joan B. Lovely, state Representative Theodore C. Speliotis of Danvers, and Gary Barrett of Salem, former district director for US Representative John F. Tierney. The Republicans are Beverly Councilor at Large Paul M. Guanci and Richard Jolitz, who unsuccessfully challenged Berry last year.

The Second Essex covers Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Salem, and Topsfield.

Now in her sixth term as Fifth District governor’s councilor, Manning is a practicing lawyer. She is the sister of Peabody City Council president Anne Manning-Martin.

“I’m the only candidate who has represented all five cities and towns in the district, and I’m a battle-hardened campaigner,’’ Manning said. “And I think I’ve developed a reputation for speaking my mind, doing what I think is right and communicating what I’m doing to the public in a way that seems to resonate in a positive way.’’

A former one-term Peabody city councilor and a lawyer, Slattery served four terms as a state representative, from 1995-2003. He lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 2002 and unsuccessfully challenged Bonfanti for the Peabody mayor’s seat in 2005.

“I have proven experience in being able to build consensus in the Legislature,’’ he said. “I also think having served in there, I have a good familiarity with the budget process, and with the process of getting bills [passed].’’

Bonfanti, who is completing his fifth term as mayor, formerly served on the city’s Municipal Light Commission and its library trustees.

“I am giving it strong consideration,’’ he said.

“I feel I can bring some unique focus,’’ he said. “Sitting in the mayor’s chair, I see a lot of things like unfunded mandates that might need to be addressed. I see a need to look at local aid to be a little more consistent. There are a lot of issues that I think, sitting in the Senate, I might be able to at least bring up and see if we can address some of that.’’

Speliotis is in his eighth term in the House after a previous stint of four terms. In between he served as the Danvers town moderator for eight years.

“I’m very seriously considering it,’’ he said.

Speliotis said he would have a “very good head start in the race’’ since he has effectively represented two House districts within the Second Essex - his current one, which covers Danvers, Topsfield, and part of Peabody, and a previous one that included half of Danvers and a large part of Peabody.

But he said he had to weigh whether he wants to relinquish his House seat and his position as a House committee chairman.

“I very much appreciate both what the voters have given me and the position I have attained at the State House,’’ he said. “You don’t give that up lightly.’’

Barrett held his position with Tierney from January 1996 until last May. He is currently interim executive director of the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development.

“I’m seriously looking at the race,’’ he said. “I’ve received a number of calls from people in all four communities that are urging me to consider the run and committing their support if I should decide to do so.

“I bring a knowledge of the communities that comprise Senator Berry’s district,’’ he said. “I understand the issues faced by the cities and towns, and have had hands-on dealing with residents and the problems they have faced in those communities.’’

Lovely, just reelected to an eighth term on the Salem City Council, unsuccessfully ran for state representative in 2004. A lawyer, she formerly worked in real estate management and sales.

“Right now, I’m contacting people to see what the reception is and to see who may be running out of Salem or other communities,’’ she said. “But I’m being approached by a lot of people who are encouraging me to run and I’m strongly considering running.’’

Guanci, owner of Super Sub Shop in downtown Beverly, was recently reelected to a second two-year term as a councilor at large after four previous terms. He will take over as City Council president next month because he topped the ticket in the Nov. 8 election.

Guanci said it is unlikely he will run for Berry’s seat, observing, “I think it would be very tough for a Republican to garner enough support to fill Fred’s shoes.’’ But, he said, “It’s not out of the question,’’ noting that it is still early.

Jolitz, a dispatcher and paramedic with an ambulance company, said he was “talking with my family about the possibility of running again next year.’’

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