By Douglas Moser
---- — Newburyport City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives won the Democratic nomination for 1st Essex state Senate, handily beating former Methuen Mayor William Manzi and Haverhill businessman Tim Coco in a “geographic race.”
O’Connor Ives won 4,028 votes, with much of her margin coming in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury. Coco, with 3,410 votes, and Manzi, with 3,206, both won big in their respective cities, but could not make up the difference in a close North Andover race and in relatively poor showings in the Newburyport area.
“I had an amazing team of volunteers that worked really hard throughout the whole summer,” O’Connor Ives said last night. “I’ve met a lot of new people. I met a lot of new friends in every city and town in the district, and I want to keep this campaign going so we can win on Nov. 6.”
The district runs from Methuen east along the Merrimack River, including Haverhill, Merrimac, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newburyport and four precincts of North Andover.
The geography of the district tends to favor candidates from Methuen and Haverhill, as those are the two largest cities in the district. Manzi won Methuen by more than 1,100 votes over Coco. Coco, in turn, took Haverhill by about 1,100 votes over Manzi. All the candidates ran close in North Andover, with the spread being about 90 votes out of nearly1,100 total.
But O’Connor Ives romped in Newburyport, winning by 1,500 votes there and getting big margins in Merrimac, Salisbury and Amesbury.
O’Connor Ives won 511 votes in each Methuen and Haverhill, and held her own in North Andover, running better in the unfamiliar part of the district to her than her opponents did on her turf.
“I spent the summer introducing myself to residents in Methuen, Haverhill , North Andover and Merrimac,” O’Connor Ives said. “It was important for me to be clear on where I stood on the issues and share with people my approach to solving problems, and let them know I had a track record. I wanted to earn their trust and confidence.”
Manzi, at a gathering with supporters in Haverhill, said O’Connor Ives did well on the shore and her home of Newburyport, more than neutralizing how well he and Coco did in their respective hometowns. “It turned out to be a geographic race,” he said.
Manzi had emerged as the clear favorite of established Democrats in the region, winning the endorsement of Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday and former state Sens. Steve Baddour and James Jajuga. He also led his opponents in fundraising.
But in Newburyport, Manzi faced a political problem with a controversial endorsement he received from IBEW Local 103. The electrical union spent months protesting in Newburyport over Anna Jaques Hospital’s decision not to hire union workers to do electrical work on its $15 million expansion. The union’s tactics in Newburyport won it widespread criticism from the public and local leaders. While Manzi defended the endorsement, O’Connor Ives criticized him for being out of touch with this end of the district.
Last night, Manzi said the “seat is in play” and could go a Republican, and he committed himself to helping O’Connor Ives however he could. “I intend to work for the Democratic nominee,” he said. “I think it’s more important as we go forward because the things Democrats value are important.”
Manzi complimented his primary opponents, saying the “race was about ideas.”
At a gathering down Essex Street in Haverhill, Coco said he was proud of his race, coming in second overall. “I’m very proud, a first time candidate, to have won Haverhill and more importantly raised very basic issues that turned out to be very critical in this campaign,” Coco said.
O’Connor Ives will face the Republican winner, Haverhill School Committee member Shaun Toohey, and two independents — Amesbury City Councilor James Kelcourse and Haverhill School Committee member Paul Magliocchetti. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
“I’m going to continue to work hard and I want to be available and accessible to residents throughout the district, to know their priorities, find out their concerns and be responsive to the questions they have,” she said. “It’s about being straight forward and clear about why I’m movitivated to do this work.”