It's official. Leah Cole was sworn in by Gov. Deval Patrick as the 12th Essex District representative for Peabody at the State House this week, and she's already getting down to business.
Cole has filed a bill jointly sponsored by the other two members of Peabody's state delegation -- Rep. Ted Speliotis and Sen. Joan Lovely -- to remove the city's police and fire chief positions from the provisions of Civil Service law.
The 24-year-old Republican won the open House seat in a hotly contested three-way special election on April 2 against seasoned city politicians Beverley Griffin Dunne and David Gravel to emerge victorious by just 73 votes in her first ever bid for public office. Cole succeeds the late Joyce Spiliotis.
The Salem News reports that Cole's maiden speech Wednesday in the House chamber harkened back to her campaign promises to dig into state spending and find savings so as to avoid raising taxes and return more local aid to cities and towns.
Among the crowd watching from the balcony Wednesday, in addition to Cole's parents Chuck and Mary, were Mayor Ted Bettencourt, School Committee member Jarrod Hochman (who chairs the city's Republican committee), Peabody High teacher Ken McCue and a couple students who came with him to see democracy in action.
McCue said seniors Pam Zabala and Joanne Frangias, who are in his Advanced Placement Government Affairs class, actually met Cole during Student Government Day and she invited them to attend her swearing in ceremony.
"They were really excited to see how government worked up close," said McCue, adding that they got a personal tour of the State House as well.
Bettencourt said he wanted to support Cole as she took office and noted they've spoken a few times since the election in which he's shared his vision for the city.
He said that's important to developing a good working relationship and despite the fact they come from opposite political camps -- Bettencourt is a lifelong Democrat -- they "both love the city of Peabody" and have its best interests at heart.
The Salem News also reports that despite her original intentions to hire someone from Peabody, Cole has retained her campaign manager Ryan Charland as her chief of staff.
Charland is from Blackstone (near Worcester) and was recently elected as a Selectman there. He tells the Salem News that he interned in Boston and "knows his way around."
Cole says a top priority is setting up her office to connect with constituents and still plans to continue working as a licensed practical nurse in Danvers, but just on a per diem basis.
Cole is the 30th member of the GOP in the Mass. House of Representatives, which finally passed a $34 billion budget onto the Senate last week. She will, however, still get a chance to have a say on next year's state budget.
Once the Senate agrees on a spending plan, the budget will likely go to conference committee where both chambers reconcile their different versions of the budget before submitting a final plan to Patrick.
The 12th Essex District is comprised of Ward 1 through 4 and Precinct 1 and 3 of Ward 5. The rest of Peabody is represented by state Rep. Ted Speliotis in the 13th Essex District.