By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Many familiar players in city politics are gearing up for the November election, but at least one of them won’t be on the ballot. Instead, Al DiNuccio has endorsed his most recent opponent.
A mayoral challenger in 2009 and 2011, DiNuccio will not pull nomination papers in this year’s city election. In an interview Friday with The Eagle-Tribune, DiNuccio, 54, threw his support behind incumbent Mayor Stephen Zanni.
Zanni defeated DiNuccio by just 34 votes in 2011, the closest mayoral election in Methuen history.
“I’m surprisingly pleased with the last year and a half of leadership from the mayor’s office,” said DiNuccio. “I think Mayor Stephen Zanni has done a pretty good job, enough so that I shouldn’t be running. He deserves another two years.”
Two potential challengers to Zanni’s re-election bid have emerged: Current City Councilor Jennifer Kannan and former city councilor Joseph Leone. No other residents have requested mayoral nomination papers from the City Clerk’s office.
Residents will elect a mayor, city councilors, School Committee members and other offices on Nov. 5. The deadline to obtain nomination papers is July 26. They must be returned along with voter signatures by July 30.
As it stands now, the mayoral race would pit three former City Council colleagues against each other. Zanni, Kannan and Leone all served together on the council from 2008 to 2009.
Zanni was a councilor at large from 2006 to 2011 before reaching his term limit and running for mayor. Under the city charter, elected officials in Methuen are limited to three consecutive two-year terms on city boards and committees.
Zanni earned 4,450 votes to DiNuccio’s 4,416 in 2011. The victory required a recount in which 8,993 ballots were hand-counted by city election officials. Contacted Friday, Zanni said he was pleased to learn of DiNuccio’s endorsement.
“He understands what I’m trying to do in the city,” said Zanni. “He was a worthy opponent. He ran a great campaign and I’m so happy to hear the news that he’s endorsing me.”
Leone, who works as a construction consultant and project manager, served two terms as an East District councilor from 2006 to 2009 before losing a re-election bid. He could not be reached for comment.
Leone drew political attention in January when he posted a “Leone (for) Mayor” campaign sign on his personal Facebook account. Later that month, Leone told The Eagle-Tribune he was “50-50” on a mayoral run and also interested in running for the Methuen Housing Authority board or East District City Council — though only if incumbents Tom Ciulla and Ron Marsan did not seek reelection. Ciulla and Marsan are among seven incumbent councilors to pull nomination papers.
Kannan has served as a councilor at large since 2008 and will be term-limited off the council at the end of 2013. The realtor and mother of three children declared her candidacy for mayor at a March fundraiser.
In an interview Friday, Kannan said public safety and business development will be two major issues of her campaign. Kannan said she intends to lead Methuen by relying on her professionalism and proven ability to get things done.
“I believe that in the mayor’s office I can continue to bring that, work well with people and make sure Methuen is moving forward in a positive direction,” said Kannan.
A local businessman, DiNuccio has never held elected office despite being a candidate for City Council in the 1990s, his two more recent mayoral bids and an unsuccessful run for state representative in 2010.
But DiNuccio noted his absence on this year’s ballot does not mean his time in Methuen politics is over.
“I just don’t think that the citizens of Methuen are ready for my style of leadership,” said DiNuccio. “It’s more of a business approach than a political approach. ... I’m not done. It’s time to sit this one out.”