By Mac Cerullo
---- — WEST NEWBURY — The new year marks a new beginning for Lenny Mirra, who will soon be leaving behind a life in the small business world to take up their cause on Beacon Hill.
On Wednesday, Mirra will be sworn in as 2nd Essex District state representative, succeeding Rep. Harriett Stanley, D-West Newbury, who is retiring after 18 years.
The West Newbury Republican won election by championing himself as an advocate for small business and promised that he would fight to rein in wasteful spending and bring about business-friendly reforms.
His first order of business after the swearing-in ceremony is to work toward reviewing the state formula that determines local aid funding.
“It’s supposed to be reviewed every two years and it hasn’t been,” Mirra said. “A lot of small towns in the district have been shortchanged because of that.”
Mirra said he has spoken to a number of other area legislators who represent small communities, including Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich and Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, who also support the measure,
Stanley said she is looking forward to watching how Mirra does, adding that she wasn’t surprised he won the seat despite the obstacles his campaign faced in the election.
“If you look at the voting patterns of this district, it is a very, very independent district. They vote the person, not the party,” she said.
The 2nd Essex District, which includes West Newbury, Newbury, Merrimac, Georgetown, Groveland and parts of Haverhill and Boxford, typically leans more conservative than other areas of the state. In the November election, many of the district communities supported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the district overwhelmingly backed U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in both of his Senate campaigns.
But the district also elected Stanley, a Democrat, nine consecutive times between 1994 and 2010. Facing a serious groundswell of Democratic support, driven largely by President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, Mirra had a difficult fight ahead of him.
In order to differentiate himself and stand out to voters, Mirra took it upon himself to go out and meet as many voters as possible. Over the summer, he grabbed his bike and pedaled off to start knocking on doors.
Stanley said the tactic, which allowed him a chance to meet with voters face to face, earned Mirra a lot of points.
“What a way to meet people — he could just ride into someone’s driveway,” Stanley said. “Everyone kind of needs to have a hook, something that identifies them, and riding his bike was a great idea.”
Mirra said his goal was simply to knock on as many doors as possible and he found riding his bike was the most efficient way to go about doing that.
“I tried doing it by walking, but then I tried doing it by car, and I found that the bike was the most productive,” Mirra said. “I couldn’t believe how amazingly friendly everyone was; most people were glad to hear from someone who was running for office.”
On election day, voters rewarded him at the ballot box, making him the only non-incumbent Republican to win election in the entire state. Mirra captured 52 percent of the vote to beat his opponent, Democrat Barry Fogel of West Newbury, by more than 1,000 votes.
Stanley, who attended Mirra’s election night party at the Coach’s Rock Pond Pub in Georgetown, said she thinks Mirra will be in a good position to succeed right away and will likely have no shortage of mentors within the state GOP establishment.
But she added his ultimate fate would depend on how faithful he is to his constituents, and that if he doesn’t do a good job serving the district, voters wouldn’t hesitate to find someone who would.
“I think he’ll be very good, and he should be very good,” Stanley said. “If he’s not, then he’ll get fired just like other folks that have gotten fired.”
Mirra said he has a lot of respect for Stanley and he hopes to emulate her independent approach to the job.
“Harriett left some big shoes to fill,” Mirra said. “She was always very independent and it’s my goal to do the same.”