Four names emerging as Methuen mayoral candidates

Term-limit change could alter battle

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2011

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Potential candidates for mayor are weighing their plans in Methuen even as the city term-limits rule that bars incumbent William M. Manzi III from running again becomes a renewed focus of debate.

At least four people are being mentioned as potential contenders to succeed Manzi, who is in his third two-year term. The city’s term-limits rule restricts the mayor and most other elected officials from serving more than three consecutive terms in any one office.

Among those mentioned are former state senator James P. Jajuga; city councilor at large Stephen N. Zanni; East District Councilor Larry F. Giordano; and School Committee member Kenneth R. Willette Jr. The election is in November, with a preliminary election, if needed, in September.

Debate over the term-limits rule resurfaced when a city charter commission last month proposed doing away with it as part of a package of city charter revisions that will appear on the November city election ballot. More recently, City Council president and charter commission member John A. Cronin Jr. has been pushing a plan to bring the issue before voters this spring.

Cronin said he would like to schedule a special election in April at which residents would choose between doing away with term limits; revising them to provide for a lifetime limit of two three-year terms; or maintaining the status quo.

Cronin, who favors doing away with term limits, said the special election would allow voters to settle once and for all what “seems to be the biggest issue in the community.’’ He said the November charter question would not do that, because voters would only have the options of doing away with or keeping the current system.

“I’m trying to be fair to everyone,’’ he said.

Should voters this spring abolish term limits, it would create the unusual circumstance in which Manzi and others facing term limits this year — including Cronin — would become eligible to run in the fall.

But Cronin, who hopes to bring his proposal before the council next Monday, said he would not go forward with it if he determines he lacks the council votes needed to schedule a special election. In the event a special election takes place, the city would still need to seek special legislation to effect the charter change approved by voters.

Manzi said last week that he would not rule out running again for mayor this fall were he to become eligible. But he said he thought it unlikely that term limits would be abolished before November.

“All my plans have centered around the fact that I would not be a candidate in November,’’ he said.

Jajuga, a retired State Police lieutenant, is a Democrat and was elected to six terms in the state Senate. He resigned his Senate seat to accept appointment in the fall of 2001 as state public affairs secretary, a post he held about 18 months. Since 2007, Jajuga has been president and chief executive of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce.

He said he is mulling the idea of running for mayor.

“I have my own thoughts about what I would do if I were to run and win the mayor’s seat. So there is a part of it which is very exciting and you feel like you could make a difference,’’ he said. “On the other hand, there’s a lot involved — you have to raise money again and go back to that whole process. So I’m deliberating, I’m thinking about it.’’ He expects to make a decision in the next couple of months. Zanni, who is reaching his three-term limit on the council this year — he served earlier stints on the council and School Committee in the 1990s — lost a previous bid for mayor in 1999. He said he is considering entering this year’s race.

“In the next few weeks, I’ll be making a decision,’’ he said.

A retired teacher and administrator with the Hudson, N.H. schools, Zanni said he would enjoy the opportunity as mayor to oversee to the high school building project, and help the city market itself to businesses as a way of increasing its tax base.

Willette is in his first term on the School Committee after previous stints on the City Council and School Committee. He works as a legislative aide on Beacon Hill.

“I’m definitely interested,’’ he said of running for mayor. “I’m still discussing it with my family, friends, and supporters. I have two young children — that is a factor in the process. . . I will probably make my decision in the springtime.’’

Giordano, a former state representative and state commissioner of public safety, is reaching his three-term limit on the council this year. He previously served one term on the council and lost a bid for mayor in 1999.

“I’ve been involved in public service for 26 years. It’s time maybe to step aside and let someone else do it,’’ Giordano, who runs a local karate school, said last week of running for mayor. But he said he did not rule out getting in the race.

Jajuga said he would not run for mayor if term limits were abolished and Manzi sought another term. But Willette and Giordano said any decision Manzi makes would not deter them from running. Zanni said it was premature to discuss that scenario.