Seven candidates have emerged thus far in the race to replace Mary-Ellen Manning as representative for the 5th District on the Governor's Council.

Democrats who have taken out nomination papers include Eileen Duff of Gloucester; David Eppley and George O'Brine, both of Salem; and Donald Bumiller of Boxford, according to the secretary of state's office. The Republicans in the race are Maura Ciardiello of Haverhill and Richard Miller and Ryan Madden, whose addresses could not be verified yesterday.

The eight-member statewide council doesn't get the publicity of most other elected positions but has the important function of vetting and confirming the governor's appointment of judges and other judiciary officials and to act on issues such as payments from the state treasury and criminal pardons and commutations.

"It's the most high-profile, obscure office we've got in the state," said Arthur Powell, a Beverly resident and a member of the Democratic State Committee since 2002. So obscure that the ultimate outcome of a primary "could even come down to ballot placement, who's on top, who's on the bottom, or where the candidates are from."

Manning, who has served as the district's governor's councilor since 2001, will not seek re-election, opting instead to run for the 2nd Essex Senate seat being vacated by state Sen. Fred Berry.

"I have a personal relationship with a number of the people running (for Governor's Council), and I think highly of them," Manning said yesterday. She declined to make any endorsement.

"It's never a good idea when you have your own race at stake to get involved in other people's races," she said. "I have nothing but positive things to say about a few of the candidates, but not all of them."

Eppley, Bumiller and O'Brine are local attorneys, while Duff once worked for the Federal Communications Commission and currently works as chaplain for Hospice of the North Shore & Greater Boston.

Ciardiello, a former teacher in Haverhill, is a stay-at-home mom with boys ages 9 months, 2 and 4 and is enrolled in a master's program for education at Cambridge College.

Candidates for Governor's Council have until May 8 to bring in 1,000 registered voter signatures to get their names on the ballot. For some, that could be a big challenge.

"One of the biggest hurdles for all of these people is the signatures," Powell said. "It's a lot of signatures if you're an amateur (politician) and you don't have a huge network."

This year's election is particularly interesting not only because there is an open seat for the first time in more than a decade, but because the district has changed dramatically since the 2010 election. Each of the eight Governor's Council districts is composed of five contiguous Massachusetts Senate districts. After the 2010 Census, the Legislature changed the 5th Governor's Council District by swapping the 3rd Essex Senatorial District (Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus, Swampscott) for the 1st Middlesex Senatorial District (Dunstable, Groton, Lowell, Pepperell, Tyngsborough, Westford).

"The gravity of the votes are now in the north; it's a huge, cataclysmic change," Manning said, noting that candidates from the Merrimack Valley could have a big advantage over those from the southern parts of the district.

"It used to be you couldn't get anywhere without Lynn," Powell said. "Now, you can't get anywhere without Lowell."

The Governor's Council has come under fire in recent years, and some legislators have questioned whether the council — the origins of which date back to the 17th century — is still necessary. It meets briefly each Wednesday at the Statehouse, and its members are paid handsomely for what some would consider minimal work. Each councilor receives $26,025 a year, health insurance benefits, travel expenses, a Beacon Hill parking space and creditable service toward a state pension.

Governor's Council 5th District

Essex County

Amesbury

Andover

Beverly

Boxford

Danvers

Essex

Georgetown

Gloucester

Groveland

Hamilton

Haverhill

Ipswich

Lawrence

Manchester-by-the-Sea

Merrimac

Methuen

Middleton

Newbury

Newburyport

North Andover

Peabody

Rockport

Rowley

Salem

Salisbury

Topsfield

Wenham

West Newbury

Middlesex County

Dracut

Dunstable

Groton

Lowell

North Reading

Pepperell

Tewksbury

Tyngsborough

Westford

Wilmington

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