HAVERHILL — The race is on for the 1st Essex District state Senate seat.
When state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, announced in March she would not seek a fourth term, state Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, stepped forward to run for the seat.
Now, Alexander Leighton Williams, 20, of Amesbury has mounted a Republican challenge in the district, which covers Haverhill, Methuen, Amesbury, Newburyport, Salisbury, Merrimac and part of North Andover.
He’s been on the campaign trail for several weeks, and has already returned the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot.
“There are a lot of people who want to do good, who simply don’t have the time to run,” Williams said. “I saw that I had experience in running a campaign, I had the time to run a campaign, and I realized I was one of those people who could do some good.”
Though young, the state Senate campaign is not Williams’ first foray into government. At 18, while living in Boxford, he ran unopposed for a seat on the Board of Assessors. He beat a challenger to win re-election, though had to resign when he moved to Amesbury earlier this year.
Williams, who was born in California, has spent nearly half of his life in Massachusetts with his mother, Cathlynne Williams, and siblings Nicholas, 24, and Katerina, 18.
The 2015 graduate of Masconomet Regional High School is now a rising senior at UMass Lowell, where he is studying economics and history in a program from which he will ultimately graduate with a master’s degree.
Williams assured voters his studies would not be a hindrance to his Senate duties if elected.
“People were worried about me being in school at the same time (as running for Senate) but at the time I assume the seat, I’ll only have three courses left to take and I can do those online,” he said.
Williams has identified term limits and redistricting as some of the key issues of his campaign.
“I’m a big believer in democracy, and even someone who’s really good, someone who you really like, they shouldn’t be allowed to just sit there forever,” he said.
For instance, Williams wants to see state senators and representatives capped at serving six consecutive terms or eight nonconsecutive terms.
“If you can’t get it done in that time, you’re not getting it done,” he said.
In terms of redistricting, Williams is advocating for the “shortest split line” method of redistricting, which he said uses a mathematical algorithm to divide the state in a way that “removes gerrymandering” and promotes fairness and voter equity.
His website also discusses a “common sense drug policy” that would promote the establishment and expansion of current rehabilitation programs, better educate the community, better reach out to those suffering from addiction, and better identify those who are most likely to succumb to addiction.
Williams held a meet-and-greet event at Maria’s Family Restaurant in Haverhill on Thursday.
Among the supporters was former Haverhill Mayor Bill Ryan. He spoke to Williams both as a supporter and coach of sorts, talking to the younger man about issues ranging from the commuter rail lines to downtown parking.
“He’s a terrific candidate and we’re going to go all out in Haverhill so he gets a super vote here,” Ryan said.
Ryan first met Williams at a recent Haverhill Republican City Committee event. While listening to Williams speak, Ryan said he was blown away, going so far as to say Williams reminds him of a young Abraham Lincoln.
“We need a young candidate with no baggage. He’s got good common sense. I think he’s going to be well received by the voters of Haverhill and the 1st Essex District,” Ryan said.
Haverhill resident Richard Early III said the event Thursday was all about getting Williams’ name out there.
Early called Williams “ambitious” and said this was only the start of the 20-year-old’s campaign, which would also include knocking on doors over the summer and more events in the run-up to the fall election.
“We can’t let (DiZoglio) run unopposed,” Early said.
At the meet-and-greet, manning a table with stacks of business cards and a small basket for donations, Cathlynne Williams expressed great pride and encouragement for her son.
“You know, go for it kid,” she said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.