HAVERHILL — While all four city councilors who have endorsed a candidate in the special election for the 3rd Essex District have endorsed fellow Councilor Andy Vargas, four other councilors are still on the fence.
Council President John Michitson and Councilors Joseph Bevilacqua, Colin LePage and Thomas Sullivan remain uncommitted to either Vargas, Paul Magliocchetti or Shaun Toohey, the candidates seeking the seat vacated by former state Rep. Brian Dempsey.
Vargas and Magliocchetti, a longtime member of the city's School Committee, are the lone candidates in the Democratic primary.
Toohey, another School Committee veteran who ran against Magliocchetti in a 2012 special election for the 1st Essex District in the state Senate, is the lone candidate in the Republican primary. Both primary elections will be held on Oct. 10, with the general election slated for Nov. 7.
Councilors Melinda Barrett, William Macek, and Michael McGonagle threw their support behind Vargas when he declared his candidacy in July, while Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien threw her support behind the 24-year old councilor late last month.
But Michitson, Bevilacqua, LePage and Sullivan are playing their cards closer to the vest, at least until closer to the election.
While he has attended campaign kickoff events for all three candidates, Bevilacqua — who served on the School Committee with Magliocchetti and Toohey — said Monday he has not endorsed a candidate and is looking forward to working with whoever ends up filling Dempsey's seat.
"I've worked with each candidate on either the council or the School Committee, and I don't think endorsements matter. I don't think it's my place to tell voters who to vote for," said Bevilacqua. "In the end, the only endorsement that matters is the one the voters make."
After briefly considering a run himself for Dempsey's seat, Sullivan ultimately decided to focus on his re-election to the council and even speculated about a possible mayoral campaign in the future.
But as to whom he will be supporting in the Democratic primary, Sullivan said he is a fan of both Vargas and Magliocchetti.
Sullivan stated that he is focusing on his own reelection bid and is looking to keep the primary a positive affair, adding that he attended one of Magliocchetti's campaign events and will likely attend one or two of Vargas' future events.
"I've known both of them for varying amounts of time. I've known Paul for 20-to-30 years and I've known Andy for a few years," said Sullivan.
"I have a lot of respect for both of them, I like both of them and I think either of them would bring a lot to the position," Sullivan continued, adding he will "most likely" be supporting the Democratic nominee in the general election.
Although a Bradford resident who won't be eligible to vote in the 3rd Essex primaries, like the most seasoned politicians and political observers in the city and region, LePage said Monday that he is interested to see how the primaries turn out.
"I know and respect all three candidates and I may or may not endorse a candidate for the general election," said LePage.
Although Michitson — a lifelong resident of the Riverside neighborhood — doesn't reside in the 3rd Essex District, the council president said Monday he will be endorsing the winner of the Democratic primary, be it Vargas or Magliocchetti.
Michitson cited his positive working relationships with both men as reasons for remaining neutral until after the primary.
"Councilor Vargas and I are working closely on a couple of things, namely helping to make UMass-Lowell's innovation hub a success and on a strategic budgeting plan," said Michitson. "And for the last six years, Paul and I have been in sync on issues like campaigning for a new Hunking School and he's been a leader on crafting a capital improvement plan for schools.
"I guess you could say I'm supporting both in the primary and will be endorsing the winner," he said.
Among the nine sitting city councilors, four — Michitson, LePage, Barrett and Vargas — voted against Toohey when he was in consideration to replace Bevilacqua on the school committee in January 2016 following Bevilacqua's election to the council and the vacating his committee seat.
Toohey was reappointed to the committee 8-7 in a combined vote of the council and committee, besting former School Committeeman Raymond Sierpina.
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