By Douglas Moser
---- — North Andover Democrat Phil DeCologero is building on the connections he made working, volunteering and doing political grunt work in North Andover, Methuen and Lawrence to build establishment political support for his challenge to Methuen state Rep. Diana DiZoglio, also a Democrat.
A number of local officials, including those in DiZoglio’s hometown of Methuen, have lined up behind DeCologero, the latest being Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, who announced his endorsement Monday.
But DiZoglio, a freshman legislator, is working the retail end, doing the lower-profile work of knocking on doors, holding signs and showing up at any event she can find. It’s a repeat of her 2012 playbook when she upset incumbent Democrat David Torrisi of North Andover in the primary with basic neighborhood political campaigning.
DiZoglio, 31, has been attending a raft of events in the district, which includes parts of Methuen, North Andover, Lawrence and Haverhill, and knocking on doors. That kind of retail politics that helped her unseat Torrisi in 2012 in the Democratic primary. She said she is not focused on the endorsements of other elected officials.
“The endorsement I’m seeking is of the people in the district,” she said. “Endorsements can be a good thing and a bad thing. I have not solicited any local officials for an endorsement up to this point. We have a good working relationship but that hasn’t been my focus. I’ve been busy doing the work of the people, getting bills passed into law.”
She said she has been campaigning with all of her free time, including door knocking, making phone calls and holding signs. “I have more of a grassroots focus,” she said.
DeCologero, 27, a North Andover native and graduate of Merrimack College, worked for two state reps – including former state Rep. Barbara L’Italien, whose district once included part of eastern Methuen. In high school, he was a youth member to the state Democratic committee.
L’Italien, who is running in a crowded primary to succeed state Sen. Barry Finegold, who is running for state treasurer, is backing DeCologero. At DeCologero’s announcement in April, L’Italien said DeCologero’s work and volunteering would serve the community well, and she was not focused on DiZoglio at all.
“Phil is a superior candidate,” she said then. “He understands Methuen working here and has been very active in his hometown North Andover.”
DeCologero managed Stephen Zanni’s first mayoral campaign in 2011 and worked for him for about two years as an executive assistant. Zanni promised his support when DeCologero announced his challenge to DiZoglio.
He has the support of other city officials, including School Committee member Rick Beshara, City Councilor George Kazanjian and Bryan Sweet, a School Committee member who also is chairman of the Methuen Democratic City Committee.
Kazanjian said DeCologero helped him with his campaign for City Council last year. Beshara said in April DeCologero reached out to him and asked for support, even though Beshara does not live in the 14th Essex House district.
In Lawrence, Mayor Rivera said DeCologero supported him early in his own campaign for mayor, betting on a candidate who seemed in early 2013 like a longshot. “He came out early and knocked doors with me. It was lonely at the beginning there. That’s the kind of leadership I want,” Rivera said.
Helping campaigns, holding signs, working phones and giving up summers to elect candidates builds up connections with voters and political leaders, he said. “He’s done that. He’s earned his due,” Rivera said. “When people do that, they’ll have a sense of trust for you. The connection for me is he came up the way I came up, doing all the hard work.”
In North Andover, DeCologero serves as the vice chairman of the town Democratic Committee and as a delegate to the state convention. He helped found the North Andover Merchants Association with Republican selectman Tracy Watson, who gathered signatures for DeCologero at Methuen City Hall in April.
Tricia Melvin, chair of the North Andover Democratic Town Committee, supports DeCologero because of his work with groups like the town committee. “Diana worked very hard campaigning for the seat. She did unseat an incumbent. There’s something to be said for that,” Melvin said.
But, she added, “I really think these folks, Steve Zanni, Dan Rivera, Tracy Watson, I think they’re with Phil because they worked with him.”
Former Methuen Mayor William Manzi, who does not live in that district, said he has not been asked to take sides. “But let me say on the record, should I have lived in the district, I would be inclined to support the Methuen candidate. It seems to me that in the last few years, maybe the last decade, we’ve drifted toward a more parochial look at candidates. Regions go for their hometown people. If that’s going to be the criteria people use to make their judgments, I’m not sure why Methuen would be different.”
The primary, which will include Democrats DiZoglio, DeCologero and North Andover resident Oscar Camargo, will be on Sept. 9.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against North Andover Republican Rosemary Connelly Smedile, who does not have a primary opponent.
The general election is Nov. 4.
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