By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Voters in the 14th Essex District, which includes five precincts in North Andover, three in Methuen and smaller portions of Lawrence and Haverhill, may see another hotly contested race for state representative this year.
Philip DeCologero, a longtime North Andover resident and executive assistant to Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni, has formed an exploratory committee for a possible run for the seat currently occupied by Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen.
In addition, political newcomer Oscar Camargo, also of North Andover, announced earlier this month he’s running in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.
DiZoglio, who scored a major political upset in 2012 when she defeated then-Rep. David Torrisi, D-North Andover, will be seeking re-election.
“I can’t speak to other people’s plans,” DiZoglio said Tuesday, noting that DeCologero has not officially announced his candidacy. “I’m certainly running.”
She said she’s now focused on the annual state budget as well as legislation being considered by the Education Committee, of which she is a member. She added she is working with Methuen Mayor Zanni on issues facing the schools in his city.
“I am focused on doing the work of the people,” DiZoglio said.
DeCologero, 26, vice chairman of the North Andover Democratic State Committee, filed a statement of organization with the secretary of state’s office Feb. 11. North Andover Selectman Richard Vaillancourt is listed as chairman of the Friends of Phil DeCologero while Phyllis Tyler of Lawrence is the treasurer.
“It’s a practical step,” said DeCologero, who has been contemplating a run for state representative for a long time. His possible candidacy, he said, is “very much in the exploratory stage.”
He has been discussing the matter with family members and friends and will continue to do so, he said. Asked why he might be attempting to defeat DiZoglio in the Democratic primary, he said he thinks he can provide “stronger leadership for the Merrimack Valley.”
DeCologero, a 2005 graduate of North Andover High School who earned a political science degree at Merrimack College, is no stranger to politics. He worked as a legislative aide to then-state Rep. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, from 2009 to 2011, when he was hired by Zanni.
He ran L’Italien’s re-election campaigns in 2006 and 2008 as well as Zanni’s campaigns in 2011 and 2013. He also managed the electoral efforts of North Andover Selectmen Tracy Watson and Donald Stewart.
“I’m someone who has always embraced the opportunity to give back to my community. As I consider whether or not this decision makes sense for me and my family, I will take the next several weeks to continue speaking with residents. Ultimately, I want to do whatever affords me the greatest opportunity to make the Merrimack Valley a better place to live,” DeCologero said.
Should DeCologero take the plunge, he will probably have to give up his job with the mayor’s office.
“Phil has been an asset to me and an integral part of my team since I first took office. He’s a bright man and I’d certainly be sad to see him leave my office, but I know there are many things to weigh as he considers this next step and I’ll support him with whatever decision he makes,” Zanni said in a statement to The Eagle-Tribune.
Vaillancourt said he was impressed with DeCologero when he first met him four or five years ago. At that time, Vaillancourt, DeCologero and others were organizing the North Andover Merchants Association as a 501(c) nonprofit entity.
“I figured he was 35,” Vaillancourt said. He was surprised to learn the DeCologero was only 22 at the time. He also noted that DeCologero was named Democrat of the Year by the North Andover Democratic Town Committee in 2012.
“He’ll make a great state Rep.,” Vaiilancourt said.
“I have nothing against Diana,” he added, but he would like North Andover to have one of its own residents serving in the House. For at least 40 years, until Torrisi’s departure in January 2013, North Andover always had its own state representative.
Some local Republicans have expressed interest in running, but so far none of them has made a commitment to the race, said C.J. Gangi, chairman of the North Andover Republican Committee.