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Cole Takes Stunning Win in Peabody State Rep Race

Leah Cole, a virtually unknown GOP candidate until now, beat her Democratic and unenrolled opponents Tuesday to claim the seat formerly occupied by the late Joyce Spiliotis.

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]

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Ted Lempner April 03, 2013 at 07:35 PM
JT, paragraphs are your friend. I was replying to mschribman's laughable comment that cole won't be beholden to any controlling parties. In addition, I'm concerned with what happened in THIS election. I don't believe Hollywood or George Soros entered into the equation last night. Outside influence in elections is troubling to me regardless of this stupid red team vs blue team paradigm. Don't put words in my mouth and tell me I don't care about what's best to help this city. Just because i don't buy into your Norquist/Paul utopia fantasy, hardly means i don't care. I'm a realist and being stuck with a state rep who has trouble answering even most basic question on her own and is clearly a puppet is legitimate cause for concern.
Ted Lempner April 03, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Yes Bill, I did mind, very much so. But I didn't see her name on the ballot yesterday.
Charlie Anastos April 03, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Proud to have supported Dave Gravel's campaign......shocked by the apathy displayed by our fellow Peabody residents not exercising their right to vote.
Kathleen April 03, 2013 at 10:30 PM
What many people seem to be forgetting here is that every one of the career politicians we have here in Peabody (on our City Council and School Committee) started out exactly like Ms. Cole, young and inexperienced. Mr. Gravel was probably not much older than Ms. Cole when he began his political career. And I'm sure he was equally inexperienced and relied on others to mentor him. Why all the talk about her age and inexperience? Would his wife be spouting off about age and inexperience if her son decided to run for political office? Or would the tide suddenly turn to 'a fresh face and voice for Peabody"...Everyone has to start somewhere. And obviously experience isn't the only thing that people are looking for in their elected leaders. Experience can prove positive or negative. Obviously people have tired of the same old faces in city politics and are looking for change. It's under the watchful eye of these career politicians that Peabody has spiraled downward to the point of being named a Gateway City. Intelligence, honesty, integrity, hard work and determination can trump experience any day. The proof is in the pudding...
David MacDonald April 04, 2013 at 12:38 AM
Excellent point, every politician is a first time politician at some point in their career, and her nursing skills make come in handy on the floor of the House with all those lifers up there....I really hope she does well, there are not many Republicans to buddy up with, but a smile may open some doors, and a fresh face will have the interns talking. Good Luck Leah, make our city proud.

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