UPDATE: Candidates queue to replace Bliss in state Senate; GOP's Maietta in, Palmieri out

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Political parties in South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough are working to line up candidates to fill a vacancy in the Maine Senate.

A special election will take place Tuesday, May 10, to fill the District 7 seat being vacated by Sen. Lawrence Bliss, D-South Portland, who was narrowly re-elected to a two-year term last November.

Secretary of State Charles Summers said in a March 24 press release that Cumberland County Democratic, Republican and Green Independent committees have until 4 p.m. April 7 to caucus and submit nominees to the state.

Nomination papers for candidates who are not enrolled in a political party are available through the state Division of Elections. Unenrolled candidates must submit papers with 200 signatures from qualified voters by April 7 to be placed on the ballot.

Bliss, whose resignation takes effect April 15, has been unemployed for the last 16 months after being laid off as the University of Southern Maine’s Career Center director. He said he has accepted a full-time job in California.

Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, was one of the first to become a candidate to replace Bliss. Dill, a civil rights lawyer and adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College, said she is “in it to win it” and has already contacted the secretary of state’s office and the state Ethics Commission about running as a clean election candidate.

Former two-term Cumberland County District Attorney Paul Aranson of Scarborough confirmed his candidacy Thursday morning. Aranson is a Democrat with a law practice in Sanford.

Former South Portland Planning Board member Rob Schreiber, an adjunct professor of finance and macroeconomics at SMCC, also formally announced his intention this week to seek the Democratic nomination.

Another Democrat who was widely expected to run, South Portland City Councilor Tom Blake, removed himself from contention on Monday.

Reid Sher, the chairman of the Cumberland County Democratic Committee, said the group plans to meet at on April 5 at 7 p.m. at South Portland City Hall to choose a candidate.

Unlike regular caucuses, Sher said that only committee members residing in District 7 may vote. That puts the decision in the hands of 23 to 33 members, he said.

As of Thursday, Republicans, were looking for a viable candidate after Scarborough resident Joseph Palmieri decided this week to not seek the seat. Palmieri lost by 75 votes to Bliss in the general election last November.

“It’s such a short period of time to find out about it and make sure everything was all set with my business, my family and the (radio) station where I work,” Palmieri said Wednesday. “There just wasn’t enough time.”

Republicans met in Cape Elizabeth on Tuesday to discuss potential candidates, including two Maietta brothers.

Louis Maietta Jr. confirmed late Thursday night that he would be seeking the Republican nomination. Maietta is a former state representative and former South Portland city councilor. He unsuccessfully sought an at-large seat on the council in 2007.

“After spending some time with members of the Republican Party today, I did register to run at about 4:30 this afternoon,” Maietta said in an email.

Vincent Maietta, a South Portland developer, said Wednesday that no one from the party has approached him about running, but as a long-time Republican, he is interested in exploring a possible run.

“It’s a serious commitment on short notice,” Maietta said. “But I would definitely consider it if I was asked.”

Cumberland County Republican Committee Chairwoman Janet Love and Maine Republican Party Executive Director Christie-Lee McNally could not be reached to discuss the nomination process.

Green Independent Treasurer Toni Zeli said the party is actively looking for a candidate.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

This report was updated on Thursday, March 31, and Friday, April 1, 2011.