By Shawn Regan Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — They hold influential, elected positions in local government, but only one will step up to a more powerful post at the state level.
The four candidates for the 1st Essex state Senate seat serve on the city council or school committee in their communities.
As they compete for the Senate post, this is the first open race for the seat in a decade. The former senator, Methuen Democrat Steve Baddour, resigned earlier this year to take a job with a private law firm.
Kathleen O’Connor Ives, the Democratic nominee, is a third-term Newburyport city councilor. Shaun Toohey, the Republican nominee, is in his ninth year on the Haverhill School Committee and serves on the Whittier Regional Vocational School Committee. Paul Magliocchetti, an Independent, is a first-term Haverhill School Committee member. James Kelcourse, also an Independent, is in his second term on the Amesbury City Council.
We asked the candidates to discuss some of their accomplishments as elected officials and how they would serve the Senate district, which includes Amesbury, Newburyport, Salisbury, Merrimac, Haverhill, Methuen and part of North Andover.
They talked about issues including fees charged to residents, solving disputes with teachers, providing help to military veterans, and improving classroom programs.
Picking their political battles
O’Conner Ives has fought to close a much debated Newburyport landfill and opposed new fees for businesses and residents.
Toohey helped negotiate a new contract for Haverhill teachers that included more than $500,000 in health care savings, fought to see sports fees reduced for students and backed the hiring of School Superintendent James Scully, who he said stabilized the district.
Magliocchetti led an effort to remove Haverhill’s former maintenance director and reform that department, bring all-day kindergarten to city schools at reduced cost to parents, and resolve contract disputes with several school unions.
Kelcourse pushed Amesbury to sell public property to reduce city debt and hold taxes down, sponsored a tax relief program for military veterans and worked to relocate the Public Works facility, which he said saved taxpayers $2.1 million.
O’Connor Ives, who owns an online retail business, said her top priority on the City Council has been public safety. She said she has a record of opposing fees and fines that discourage small business growth and “nickel and dime residents.” She said she opposed new restaurant fees for outdoor dining and fought to reduce or remove fees for owning dogs and yard sales. She said she also pushed to lower the cost of parking permits for residents and to make them free to senior citizens.
Toohey, who has consistently railed against large classroom sizes at school budget meetings, said his efforts in support of hiring of Haverhill’s school superintendent has stabilized the district. He also has worked to reduce sports fees, which has resulted in more student participation, he said.
Kelcourse, a lawyer, said he helped save Amesbury $2.1 million by relocating its public works facility to South Hunt Road. He said he helped save the town another $850,000 by pushing for higher health care co-payments and deductibles for city workers.
Magliocchetti, also a lawyer, said he exposed the inexperience and incompetence of the city’s former maintenance director, who he said did not have the licenses or certificates necessary for the job. This, Magliocchetti said, led to the person resigning and the department being reformed.
“All the school buildings had hundreds of open repair orders, some of which caused the facilities to look disgraceful,” Magliocchetti said. “The schools are now a source of pride to the community. The new maintenance department has improved the aesthetics of the whole city at no additional cost to taxpayers.”
Magliocchetti said his proposal to expand full-day kindergarten resulted in Haverhill winning a state grant that reduced the cost of the program for parents from $4,500 to $2,000 a year.
Toohey, a self-employed mortgage banker, said he initially ran for local office to bring fiscal discipline to the School Committee. He said he is running for Senate for the same reason — to provide fiscal discipline and more transparency at the Statehouse. Magliocchetti said he ran for School Committee because the board had become “completely dysfunctional” prior to 2010.
O’Connor Ives said she ran for council to be an advocate for residents on policy matters. She said she prides herself on researching issues and meeting with other officials, residents and business owners before staking positions.
“In the Senate I’d work to take the partisanship out of state government like we’ve done in city government and be as accessible as I am as a city councilor,” O’Connor Ives said, noting she has the support of all her fellow Newburyport councilors and Baddour.
Kelcourse said he ran for council “based entirely on my desire to give back to a community that has given so much to me and my family in the form of excellent teachers, great coaches and a wonderful place to live and raise children.”
“My top priority as an at-large member of the City Council is meeting the demands of our growing community while keeping costs down,” Kelcourse said. “I will put my education and experience as a small business owner to work for the citizens of the district.’’
Combining jobs or working just in Senate?
As for the benefits of their service, Toohey and Magliocchetti said they each take health insurance for themselves and their families from the city. O’Connor Ives and Kelcourse said they do not take municipal health insurance as a benefit. Kelcourse said he gets his from his wife’s employer.
O’Connor Ives is the only candidate who has committed to immediately giving up her council seat and private business, if she is elected.
“I would be in the district or advocating for residents on Beacon Hill everyday ... without any conflict,” she said.
Kelcourse said he would fulfill his commitments to his current law clients, but accept no new ones. He was less firm about his council seat.
“I have one year remaining in my second term and will seriously consider vacating the seat if I am not able to handle both jobs,” Kelcourse said.
Toohey said he would resign his Haverhill and Whittier school seats and reduce his business dealings to “part-time status,’’ while Magliocchetti said he would resign from the School Committee, but keep his law job.
“As a partner in a law firm, I will adjust my role and I will follow the lead of former Sen. Steve Baddour,” Magliocchetti said, noting that Baddour remained an active partner in a local law firm while serving in the Senate for many years.
Address: 50 Monroe St., Amesbury
Family: Wife Amanda; sons Michael, 3, and Thomas, 10 months
Occupation: Self-employed attorney with an office in Newburyport
Current or previous elected offices: Amesbury Planning Board, 2008 to 2009; Amesbury city councilor at-large, 2010 to present
Address: 15 Kimball Hill Drive, Haverhill
Family: Wife Julie, son Massimo, 16, daughter Isabella, 14, and son Lucas 7
Occupation: Attorney and partner at the firm of Sheehan, Schiavoni, Jutras and Magliocchetti
Current or former elected office: Vice president of the Haverhill School Committee
Kathleen O’Connor Ives
Address: One Inn Street, Newburyport
Family: Husband Jeff
Occupation: Attorney, small business-owner of online retail shop
Current or previous elected office: Serving third term as Newburyport city councilor at large
Address: 696 Crystal St., Haverhill
Family: Wife Tatum, daughter Delainey, 12, son Jack, 8
Occupation: Self employed mortgage banker
Current or former elected office: Haverhill School Committee member since 2004, School Committee member for Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School