ARROWSIC, Maine — Political newcomer Eloise Vitelli, a director of program and policy at Women, Work and Community, announced Wednesday that she will seek the District 19 state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, who has been appointed to oversee the U.S. Small Business Administration’s New England region.
Her announcement sets up a possible contest with former District 19 Sen. Paula Benoit, a Republican who last month announced her intent to run in a special election to succeed Goodall.
Goodall, the Democratic Senate leader, will resign his seat when the current legislative session adjourns, most likely after lawmakers return to Augusta on July 9 to take votes on vetoes issued within the past 10 days by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Vitelli will seek her party’s nomination at the Sagadahoc County Democrats’ caucus later this month.
Despite telling the Bangor Daily News in June that serving in the Senate has long been a goal, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said in a statement Wednesday that he will not seek Goodall’s seat. A four-term representative of House District 67, Berry is prevented by term limits from running for that seat in 2014. He currently serves as House Democratic leader.
“In order to run for Senate, I would essentially have to decide I was only going to follow through on half of my current legislative term and half of my current term as majority leader,” Berry said today. “I do feel an obligation to see those commitments through.”
Berry said the decision means he will be out of politics for at least two years after his current term ends, but added that he hopes to run for office again. He said in a statement that he would not rule out a future run for the Maine Senate.
Vitelli, who was chairwoman of the Sagadahoc County Democratic Committee for four years, said Wednesday that Goodall asked her to run for his seat, which includes Sagadahoc County and the town of Dresden.
“He turned to me when he knew he got the [SBA] position,” she said. Vitelli said she has helped Goodall with all of his Senate campaigns and has “worked closely with him” since then. She also wrote him a letter of recommendation for the SBA position, she said.
Vitelli said she hopes to bring her experience in economic development — which she called “my clear passion” — to the Senate 19 seat.
“Above that, I hope to bring a sense of how to make good decisions at the government level,” she said. “I’m a strong believer in the art of compromise. I guess I am old enough to be able to take the long view, and recognize that things don’t happen overnight, that we have to work together to find solutions. And I hope to bring an even temper.”
Vitelli said the “incredibly important” race — likely against Benoit of Phippsburg — will be “very interesting. I don’t know how often it’s happened that two women have run against each other.”
Benoit, who ousted incumbent Sen. Art Mayo in 2006 after Mayo switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, served one term in the Legislature before Goodall beat her in a close race in 2008.
“I have been touched and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and encouragement by many from Sagadahoc County,” Benoit said in a release announcing her candidacy. “I did not intend to seek public office again, but thought I must consider running after many of my former constituents asked me to. … My experience in the Legislature and as a small business owner will allow me to hit the ground running to fight for Maine’s small businesses and families. It is imperative that our state government lives within its means and allow Mainers to keep more of their hard-earned money.”
Benoit, who owned a store in downtown Bath, was active in that city’s community and economic development activities. As a legislator, she worked to reform adoption laws.
As director of program and policy at Women, Work and Community, Vitelli created a statewide job training program for entrepreneurs and unemployed workers. She serves on the Maine Economic Growth Council, is former president of the Midcoast Economic Development District, and has formerly served as board president of the MidCoast Economic Development District, Community Development Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Maine Human Resources Development Council (predecessor to the State Workforce Investment Board), and the Arrowsic School and Regional School Unit 1 Transition Committee.
In a statement, Goodall said, “I know Eloise is the right person for the job. She is a tireless advocate for small business and has worked her whole life helping increase opportunities for Mainers.”
“Eloise has focused her career on helping others build their businesses,” Berry said in a release. “As state senator, Eloise will be in a position to continue her focus on building and strengthening Maine’s economy. I am proud to endorse her candidacy.”
The date of the special election will be set after Goodall submits his resignation. Party caucuses will select the candidates.
Democrats currently hold 19 seats in the Senate. Republicans hold 15, and there is one independent.
BDN reporters Christopher Cousins and Whit Richardson contributed to this report.