The race to be Westport's next top elected official is already accelerating after First Selectman Gordon Joseloff's announcement Wednesday that he will not run for a third term in the November municipal election.

Three major local political figures have either officially launched a run or expressed interest in the post.

Republican Jim Marpe, who served seven years on the Board of Education, announced his candidacy for first selectman on election night last November.

Two top Democrats, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Board of Finance Vice Chairwoman Helen Garten are also considering entering the race.

Marpe, Steinberg and Garten each said they were not surprised by Joseloff's announcement, which guarantees that a new first selectman will take over at Town Hall in November.

"It was always my intention to make the case for my nomination, and hopefully in the general election, around my vision and approach to making a great town even greater, not around any particular opponent," Marpe said in a statement Wednesday.

While she has not formally declared her candidacy, Garten appears to be leaning toward a run, telling the Westport News Wednesday that she has formed a committee to explore a potential first selectman campaign.

"I have been approached by numerous people about running, and if chosen I would be honored to represent the Westport Democratic Party," Garten said in a statement Wednesday. "I believe that I have accomplished a lot during my eight years on the Board of Finance, and I think I can do more."

Steinberg appears, at this point, to be less set on running for first selectman. While acknowledging his interest in the position, he also emphasized his focus in the coming months on his current elected position representing the 136th District in the state House of Representatives. He was re-elected in November to a second term, and serves on several General Assembly committees, including as vice chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee.

"I think it would be wise for me to give it serious thought," Steinberg told the Westport News Thursday. "But I'm incredibly busy doing the job I was elected to do. Right now, I've got plenty to worry about in the legislature. I wouldn't rule it out, but it's not my focus in the near term."

Marpe, Steinberg and Garten would likely be frontrunners, even if other candidates join the race. Other Westport Democrats have already expressed interest in running, according to Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Ezzes. But other than Marpe, no town Republicans have so far contacted the Republican Town Committee about running for first selectman, according to RTC Chairwoman Desiree Soli.

Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, a Democrat who was Joseloff's running mate in the 2005 and 2009 elections, said Thursday that she will not be a candidate this year for first selectman.

Two of the town's highest-ranking Republican elected officials, Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner and Selectman Charles Haberstroh, so far have not publicly expressed interest in running for first selectman.

A Democrat has won the race for the first selectman's office in each of the last four municipal elections, a streak dating to 1997 when Diane Farrell defeated then-incumbent First Selectman, Joseph Arcudi.; 203-255-4561, ext. 118;