HAVERHILL — Since he won the third-most votes in the 2015 City Council race at age 22, comparisons have been made between Andy Vargas and state Rep. Brian Dempsey, who won a council seat in 1987 at age 20.

Now, at age 24, Vargas is considering a run to replace Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who has held the 3rd Essex District seat since 1990 — when he himself was 24.

And Vargas isn't alone, as another prominent young city politician, Scott Wood, the 34-year-old vice president of the Haverhill School Committee, is also mulling a run.

Also weighing a potential run is Wood's friend and fellow School Committeeman Shaun Toohey, who is currently mounting a city council campaign.

The first Latino ever elected to the Haverhill council, Vargas was in Europe last week on his honeymoon, enjoying some downtime before kicking his campaign for a second council term into gear.

But then came the unexpected announcement Thursday that Dempsey will be leaving Beacon Hill in September to take a position with a prominent Boston lobbying firm, ML Strategies.

But will Vargas, who interned in Dempsey's office during his time at Boston University, remain focused on the council race or to shift his attention to the special election to succeed Dempsey in the 3rd Essex District, the only house seat located entirely within the city?

For now, he's keeping his cards close to the vest.

"I'm taking this decision very seriously and consulting with family, friends and the man who knows best — Chairman Dempsey," said Vargas Tuesday afternoon.

As of now, the only person to formally announce their candidacy for the 3rd Essex seat has been Haverhill School Committeeman Paul Magliochetti.

Magliochetti's school committee colleague Scott Wood is also testing the waters on a possible run for Dempsey's seat, which has which has been held by only three men since 1959 — Dempsey, Frank Emilio and the late Francis Bevilacqua.

"I've heard just about everyone's name at this point," said Wood of potential candidates for the seat. "I'm considering it and just weighing my options, thinking about where the best place I can serve Haverhill is."

While a campaign for state representative would be a new experience for Wood, who has long been a fixture in city politics, Toohey and Magliochetti both sought state office in 2012 when they ran to succeed outgoing state Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, in the 1st Essex District. 

Magliochetti ran as an independent, while Toohey would win the Republican primary before falling short in the general election to Newburyport Democrat Kathleen O'Connor Ives.

A member of the Republican State Committee, Toohey would fall to O'Connor Ives again in a rematch for the seat in 2014.

Toohey said Tuesday that he is interested in possibly running for Dempsey's seat, one of the most reliably Democratic seats in the indigo blue legislature.

"I'm certainly leaving it open. I love serving Haverhill, but I've made no decision at this time," said Toohey, the brother-in-law of School Committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello and son-in-law of legendary Haverhill politico William Ryan. "It's a lot to think about, I'll have to talk with my family, but I am interested."

Toohey said he has not checked in with the Republican City Committee about whether other members are considering a run themselves.

Regardless of who eventually enters the race — City Solicitor William Cox, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, estimates between five and 10 candidates could run — Vargas said whoever wins will have their work cut out for them.

"This is a decision that can't be made on a knee-jerk reaction and whoever takes the seat, while it's a good opportunity, will have an uphill battle to secure the amount of funding for the city that Brian did," said Vargas. "What's going to be the key for the next representative is developing relationships on Beacon Hill and being a fighter for Haverhill."

Dempsey was up for reelection again in 2018, meaning the winner of the special election to succeed him will have to run again for a full term next year. It is up to House Speaker Robert DeLeo to determine when the special election will be held.

Follow Peter Francis on Twitter @PeterMFrancis

Recommended for you