As state Sen. Steven Baddour was making his final remarks to colleagues yesterday, the race to replace him began heating up.
Baddour, a Democrat from Methuen representing the First Essex Senatorial District for the past decade, announced Monday that he was resigning in the middle of his sixth, two-year term to take a job with an international law firm. His final day is Monday.
Three people have taken out nomination papers to run for the seat, which represents Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Merrimac, Haverhill, Methuen and part of North Andover.
Amesbury City Councilor Jim Kelcourse, unenrolled; Haverhill School Committee member Shaun Toohey, a Republican; and Democrat Sean Fountain, a member of the Methuen City Council, have all taken out papers, according to Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State Tom Galvin.
Candidates need to gather 300 signatures by May 1 to get on the fall ballot. So far, no special election has been planned.
Yesterday, Kelcourse said he is "90 to 95 percent sure" he will run for the seat and that as he goes around collecting signatures and talking to people in the district, he will make up his mind once and for all.
"I think I'll get a lot of support," he said, noting that he is running as an unenrolled candidate because "I find good in both parties ... People are looking for a good candidate who is representative of them, so I think it (running unenrolled) will work."
Kelcourse, 38, of 50 Monroe St., is a lawyer with a solo practice in Newburyport; he is in his second term as a city councilor. His family runs Larry's Marina. He is a graduate of Amesbury High School, where he was a football standout and went to Villanova University on an athletic scholarship. He later graduated with a law degree from the Massachusetts School of Law.
"I've always had a desire to aspire to another level of government," he said. "I love public service."
He said that as a senator, he would continue as a fiscal conservative who is liberal to moderate on social issues.
"I'm very optimistic about it," he said. "I'm going to go out, get signatures, talk to people, and make a formal announcement in late May or early June after turning in my signatures."
He said the next senator has "big shoes to fill.
"I think the world of Steve," he said. "He really helped us in Amesbury. I'm going to miss him. He was a great advocate. Whenever I called him, he was quick to respond ... I hope to pick up where he left off."
Haverhill's Toohey would run as a Republican if he decides to go "all in."
"I haven't made a decision yet," he said. "I'm exploring it now. I'm excited, I'm passionate about it, but unless I can commit 100 percent, I won't do it. I won't do a part-time campaign. Once I hit the ground running, I'm off to the races."
He said he'd decide in the next couple of weeks but would be out gathering signatures in the meantime.
"As I get signatures, I'll consider the feedback I get from citizens throughout the district," he said, adding, "The timing is right."
He said running as a Republican would be a plus in the relatively conservative Merrimack Valley.
"We need more balance in the Senate at this juncture," he said, noting that there are currently just four Republicans in the 40-member chamber. "As a Republican, there's even more of an incentive to run ... I believe, I'm hopeful, whether it's me or another Republican, there needs to be more balance."
Moreover, he said, he wants to make sure the race is contested.
"We need a two-party race," he said. "I'd hate to see the usual suspects go out there and think it's a shoo-in."
Toohey runs his own marketing firm and is a mortgage banker.
Methuen's Fountain, a Democrat, was the first to pull papers and said yesterday he is running for the seat.
"I'm getting a very good response, a very open and gracious response," said Fountain, who is also a North Andover firefighter. "People are saying 'a breath of fresh air.'"
Other people mentioned as possible candidates, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, include Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, former Methuen Mayor William Manzi, Haverhill Chamber of Commerce executive director Jim Jajuga, former Congressional candidate Sam Meas of Haverhill and former Methuen mayoral candidate Al DiNuccio.
One person not planning on running for the seat is Methuen state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, a Democrat.
She said in an emailed statement that she has received calls asking her to consider running in order to keep the seat occupied by a Methuen resident.
"I explained that should not be a deciding factor," she said. "I believe it best for the district for me to continue to establish myself in the House — besides, I feel the House is where all the action and debate is."
She said she would also miss Baddour.
"I will truly miss his great sense of humor and kindness," she said. "When I was first elected to the House, he was a great mentor to me, helping me to leave local politics behind and to devote full attention to state issues."
Yesterday, as is customary for departing legislators, Baddour was afforded the chance to take the podium in the Senate chambers for one last time to address his colleagues.
He was not, however, allowed to debate on a state energy bill, which was before the Senate yesterday, because his new employer, McDermott, Will & Emery, represents numerous energy companies.