A Republican will once again represent Peabody on Beacon Hill.
That's the shocking outcome of Tuesday's special election in the 12th Essex District. There were three candidates vying for the seat left open by the death of Joyce Spiliotis last year.
Republican Leah Cole, who is new to politics and was a longshot candidate until recently, scored a major upset and garnered 35 percent of the vote over 34 percent that went to Democrat Beverley Griffin Dunne and 31 percent for unenrolled candidate Dave Gravel.Candidate Total Votes Leah Cole 1,878 35% Beverley Dunne 1,805 34% David Gravel 1,655 31% Blanks 5 Write-ins 8 TOTALS 5,351
According to the City Clerk's office, total voter turnout was 20 percent or 5,351 out of 26,730 registered voters in the district.
Before the clerk's office confirmed those numbers shortly before 9 p.m., Dunne told Peabody Patch the 73-vote margin didn't appear to leave much room for a recount. Gravel conceded at about 8:30 p.m., according to a Patch reporter at his campaign results-watching event.
The PDF attached to this article shows the results precinct-by-precinct. Cole, in fact, only won four precincts and tied with Gravel on one, while Dunne actually won eight precincts and Gravel took two outright.
The victory for Cole was surprising to locals on all sides, particularly given she was running against two well-established, popular Peabody politicians who each had their own strong local backing.
Cole, on the other hand, was mainly supported by Republicans and conservative advocacy groups across the state and had very little financial support from Peabody voters, based on campaign finance reports.
Fellow Republicans Dan Winslow and Michael Sullivan, who are running in their own special election race for Massachusetts' open U.S. Senate seat, both stopped in Peabody today to campaign with Cole.
The response from readers Tuesday night's results ran the gamut from elated to downcast.
"Congratulations, Leah! So glad you will be representing us!" Madalena Manza chimed in via Facebook, while Dave Ridley said it was a "shockingly fantastic result!"
"Oooh...God forbid a Republican with no ties to the State House won! I say good luck to her and I'm sure she will try her best to look out for the city!" wrote David Limongiello.
On the other end of the spectrum, Maria Catalano wondered: "Is this [an] April fool joke?" She wrote: "There goes Peabody, no Republican has my best interest in mind, sad."
"Sad day for Peabody. Peabody needs someone who will put citizens first. Don't see that happening now," said Tricia Wlasuk, while Donna DiNapoli echoed sentiments that Dunne and Gravel both took votes away from each other that wouldn't have gone to Cole.
"This is what happens when you have two really good candidates running against each other and they split the vote," she said.
"It was a good, clean campaign... I see a Scott Brown moment coming in Nov. 2014, but congrats for having the guts to step up and fight versus any Dem from MA... I still think [Dunne] could get more done for our community, but this is a democracy and the majority has spoken," wrote David MacDonald.
Leann Baldwin-Bowen attempted to shed further perspective on the results: "Congratulations to Leah and more power to her -- but this is not some massive demonstration against the Democratic party -- only 5,338 people in the city voted and she only won by 73 votes. It is more of a sad reality that people are so jaded by government that they don't care who wins and didn't bother to make the effort to vote."
The last Republican to represent Peabody at the State House was Peter Torkildsen of Danvers, who defeated House Majority Leader Jack Murphy of Peabody in 1984.
Torkildsen held the 13th Essex District seat from 1985-1990. He then spent 1991-1992 as the Commissioner of Labor and Industries in Massachusetts before heading off to Congress to represent Peabody and the rest of the 6th Essex District until 1996. He was preceded in Congress by Nicholas Mavroules and succeeded by John Tierney.
The 12th Essex District seat represents Ward 1 through 4 and Precinct 1 and 3 in Ward 5. Cole will now join Democrats Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers and Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem in representing Peabody at the State House.
Here is our coverage from every candidate's election party Tuesday night.
- Cole: "I'm Overwhelmed" [VIDEO]