State Senator J. James Marzilli Jr.'s decision to drop his reelection bid following his well-publicized arrest in Lowell last week has abruptly changed the shape of the 4th Middlesex Senate race.
The Arlington Democrat, who first won the seat in a special election last December, abandoned his campaign for another term last Thursday after he was charged with groping one woman and harassing another in downtown Lowell on June 3.
With his departure, the 4th Middlesex contest has suddenly shifted to a race for an open seat.
Marzilli had been facing challenges in the primary election from two fellow Arlington Democrats: Selectman John W. "Jack" Hurd and Kenneth J. Donnelly. Now, the Sept. 16 primary becomes a two-way duel, though Marzilli withdrew too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.
"You've got two steady, responsible, experienced people running," Democratic State Committee member Patricia Deal, of Arlington, said of Hurd and Donnelly, who lost to Marzilli in last year's special election primary. "Each brings different strengths and different backgrounds."
There is a third candidate for the seat: Billerica Republican Brion M. Cangiamila, a former selectman and state representative who lost to Marzilli in last year's special election, is mounting a write-in bid for his party's nomination after failing to collect enough signatures to make the ballot.
At his June 4 arraignment, Marzilli, 50, pleaded not guilty to six charges stemming from the alleged incidents in Lowell and was released on $1,500 bail. His lawyer said last Thursday that Marzilli had checked into McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility. In a statement that day, Marzilli announced he was ending his candidacy.
"This is an extremely difficult situation for all involved," Hurd said. "I respect Senator Marzilli's decision not to run for reelection and to seek professional help."
"Obviously, Jim is ill, and my thoughts go out to Jim, his wife, Susan, his family, and the victims," Donnelly said. "I hope he gets the help he needs. For the victims, for Jim, the family, for everyone. . . . It's just a terrible situation."
Cangiamila, who served with Marzilli in the House, said he, too, applauded Marzilli's decision "to get out of the race rather than drag the Senate through an ugly few months."
"I don't know what's going on with him on a personal level. I just wish him and his wife the best," he said.
Deal said the Democratic primary contest presents a "wonderful opportunity" for Hurd and Donnelly to make their case. But she said both face the challenge of gaining the attention of voters during the summer and getting supporters to the polls in September, when "there won't be much else on the ballot."
Both Democratic contenders plan intensive voter outreach, including knocking on doors across the district, which includes Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, and parts of Lexington and Woburn.
Hurd, 54, spent 30 years at Polaroid Corp. before losing his job as a production manager last year when the company closed its Waltham plant. Since then, he has been a substitute teacher at Shawsheen Valley Technical High School.
"As a parent, as a taxpayer, and as a four-term selectman, I've experienced firsthand the issues and difficulties that cities and towns are facing, in terms of finances in particular," Hurd said. He said as a selectman he also has a record as a problem solver and consensus builder.
He said he would work to bring more local aid to the district, noting that state funding "affects everything we do. . . . Arlington in particular has experienced a significant decline in state aid in recent years."
He said he also wants to help communities address skyrocketing healthcare costs.
Donnelly, 57, retired last July as a Lexington fire lieutenant. For 22 years, he has also worked for the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, including as secretary-treasurer the past 16 years.
"It's a job that I'm qualified to do," he said of state senator. "I've been in public service for 35 years. I thoroughly enjoy helping people and making a difference." He said his years working for the state firefighter organization also have given him an understanding of "how the process works" on Beacon Hill.
Donnelly said he would be an advocate for public transportation in order to provide an alternative for people struggling with high gas costs. He also wants to expand funding for public education, calling an educated workforce "the key to recruiting good businesses."
His 2007 campaign gave him name recognition and a strong campaign organization, Donnelly said. He said his showing in last year's primary also attests to the wide support he enjoys - Donnelly finished second to Marzilli, then an eight-term House member, outpacing two other state representatives.
But Hurd said he feels good about his chances, believing voters will see him as someone trying to "continue my work in town at the state level." While his home base is Arlington, he noted that he has relatives in the district's other towns, including a cousin, Edward Hurd, who served as a selectman in Billerica.
A loan officer for Amerihome Mortgage in Burlington, Cangiamila, 46, served as state representative in 1991 to '93 and as a Billerica selectman in 1993 to '99. He lost bids for the state Senate in 1992, when Billerica was in another district, and in 1994, when he lost to Marzilli's predecessor, Arlington Democrat Robert A. Havern. He lost a bid for state representative in 1998.
Cangiamila said he believes he would have a strong shot in the final, based on having topped the voting in Billerica, Burlington, and Woburn in last year's special election. He said he would work to bring about state tax relief, including by pushing for more legislative action to reduce state spending.
"The Legislature really needs to step up to the plate, because people are hurting," he said.
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.