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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]

For breaking Peabody news as it happens, sign up for Peabody Patch email alerts.

David MacDonald April 03, 2013 at 03:05 AM
Like I said, I usually vote Republican, but this Commonwealth is red, always will be red, and selfishly, I pay taxes, if I pay taxes, I and my family have a better chance of benefitting from those taxes if I have a democrat representing my district. Especially a Democrat like Beverley Dunne, who is honest and trustworthy representing Peabody.
Nate Gravel April 03, 2013 at 03:11 AM
I wish the politically passionate of Peabody who surface in this forum took the time to understand the guidelines and regulations of Massachusetts (http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elespec/specidx.htm) and then considered the timeline of this election. Maybe then their questions, concerns, and complaints of my father's "decision" to run as an unenrolled/independent candidate would be addressed. Or maybe not. In the meantime, at least Peabody will enjoy lower tax rates and the fellowship of 29 other districts (out of 160).
NEIL PAPAMECHAIL April 03, 2013 at 03:19 AM
FINALLY we have an OUTSIDER. FINALLY we have someone who will WORK HARD and BE OUR VOICE. If you CAMPAIGN and run CLEANLY and INFORMATIVELY, then good things happen and hard work will be rewarded. Peabody has long been run by insiders and annointed successors. Be the Change you want in the world? Apparently, it starts NOW.
Mark Titelbaum April 03, 2013 at 03:25 AM
Nate...your dad ran a solid campaign and should be commended, but not all elected officials in Peabody are unenrolled when they serve. I wasn't when I was a Trustee of the Peabody Institute Library, and I do not believe Peter Torigian was when he ran or Joyce Spiliotis was when she sat on the Library Board and then city council.
JT April 03, 2013 at 04:41 AM
Congratulations Leah! This is a huge win for you AND the people of Peabody. We know you will represent us well on Beacon Hill!
Catherine Gravel April 03, 2013 at 04:58 AM
I would like to say that the vote should have gone to the most qualified candidate with the most experience I don't think Leah was the right vote. She says she will cut our taxes but never said how. Where is her experience other than paying taxes which we all have done for years and years. I guess her 24 years of living has given her all the answers. I hope Michael Sullivan, and Charlie Baker and Scott Brown will be at the State house to help her with her votes that will help Peabody.
JT April 03, 2013 at 06:21 AM
Frankly, the state of MA and its residents would have been much better off if Sullivan, Baker, and Brown were at the State House, and like Leah, could attempt to give our residents some relief from being overtaxed to the point where they, and many of the business that they own, are moving out of state because they can't afford to be here any longer. Along with wanting to raise taxes yet again (did you notice the higher payroll tax left you with a smaller paycheck to bring home?), some of the credits/deductions that many people and families count on to get them by in this dismal economy are on the chopping block--like child care, T-passes, mortgage, & more. The "best person for the job" in the mind of many is someone who is working, paying their own expenses, and paying taxes, and knowing how hard that can be to do that, while at the same time they are prioritizing and cutting a budget so debt doesn't destroy them. It actually sounds like Leah as a taxpayer is far more qualified to represent us on Beacon Hill than most of the current legislators already there. One-sided government is destroying MA.
mkk April 03, 2013 at 10:04 AM
I agree with Dave MacDonald. Dave Gravel and Beverley Griffin Dunne split the vote. It is unfortunate, but we move on. When is Ms. Cole's seat up for reelection again?
FX Meaney April 03, 2013 at 11:14 AM
It's great to have someone representing the taxpayers for a change. Good luck, Leah.
George Stankiewicz April 03, 2013 at 11:38 AM
I hope Leah is the start of clearing out lifetime politians be they local, state or federal. Serve your community for two terms and get out to make room for new ideas and free thinking. This lets make a deal type of government gives you what Massachusetts has, runaway EBT card use, section 8 housing, Mass Health etc. I am sure there are many more programs on the books out there. Congrats to Leah on a new begining.
Kevin P. Vinagro April 03, 2013 at 11:58 AM
No question the Democratic vote was split by two well known Democrats in the City. The winds of change are blowing in Peabody... (long overdue in my opinion) We have a brilliant young mayor who has set the bar high. Hopefully our new young represenative can meet the same expecations. God Bless you Ms Cole and represent our City well!
Saber Walsh April 03, 2013 at 12:16 PM
This was quite a surprise, so congrats to Leah Cole! I do agree that we have been well represented at the VERY local level by Dems with the exception of Tierney, and I've always looked for the "lunch pail" Democrats to save us from The Elites and the Ideologues (a/k/a The New Bolsheviks). Hats off to Gravel and Dunne for what they've done for us -- no shame for either of them. I don't think this was a message to the Dems as I first thought, but agree with other posters that the Democrats stole votes from each other, sort of in a reverse of what happened in the gubernatorial election where Deval would have lost had it not been for his buddy Tim "Pull the Vote" Cahill "deciding" to run. At the end of the day, we need help. Badly. We need fewer lawyers in the salons, and this was a help. Joyce served us really well -- she would not be caught up in the misinformation that we see so many get pulled into on issues, and she was a solid vote for our community. We DESPERATELY need an independent voice, and we just need to give her our support and pray that she doesn't get shredded at the "Shrine of the Seven Deadly Sins" (a/k/a The State House), get caught up like Scott Brown did (e.g., pander to the Democrats), or get pulled into some of the legendary stupidity of Mass Republicans (like when they made John "Dyslexia Doesn't Exist" Silber the head of Mass Dept of Ed). God bless and rescue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and best wishes to our new representative!
Bruce Atkins April 03, 2013 at 12:21 PM
You should be wishing Leah Cole well instead of being such a sore loser. It won't help your husband with your negative comments next time out.
bill April 03, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Chalk one up to the Tea Party
Lola April 03, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Well said, Kevin. Sore losers should keep their comments to themselves, especially those related to candidates. After the election is when we see who has class and who doesn't. Congratulations, Leah.
Bruce Atkins April 03, 2013 at 01:34 PM
There are not 1878 republicans in Peabody - not hard to figure out that the majority of Leah Cole's votes came from independants (unentolled's) or Democrats not happy with the choices they had.
Bill April 03, 2013 at 01:39 PM
Please..being a nurse is harder than being a state rep. I think she will do just fine with the intellectual powerhouses in the Mass House.
John Castelluccio (Editor) April 03, 2013 at 01:42 PM
Bruce, there are actually more than 2,300 registered Republicans in the 12th Essex District, about 15,000 unenrolled voters and 9,200 Democrats.
Bruce Atkins April 03, 2013 at 01:55 PM
Wow....very surprising! Thanks for the update John. I still think she garnered a lot of the unenrolled voters - 5 from this family!
MShribman April 03, 2013 at 01:57 PM
How can you say no to someone whose only interest and loyalty is to her constituents instead of a controlling party? God bless her and we are all fortunate to have such a representative.
Mark Titelbaum April 03, 2013 at 03:39 PM
Do I sense a bit of activism in you that's yearning to escape?
Ted Lempner April 03, 2013 at 03:51 PM
How can you say that Cole's only interest will be to constituents? She received over $10,000 from a republican committee in Marborough... She received money for signing a Grover Norquist type pledge... She got tons of support from a Ron Paul group... She got help from anti gay marriage groups... She was supported by, and will basically vote how Rep Jim Lyons tells her to... Cole is beholden to a lot of folks outside Peabody who bought her this win. I mean come on, her committee paid people to knock on doors. I'm really concened that Peabody won't have it's own true representation anymore.
David Allcott April 03, 2013 at 04:50 PM
I have never seen a clearer argument for Instant Runoff Voting than is shown in this election. IRV is a feasible solution, is easy to understand and administer, and it solves the problem of ballot splitting. Instant Runoff Voting, also called Preferential Voting, has been around for a hundred years, allows challenges to established party machinery and leads to more representative government. Instant Runoff Voting improves democracy by reducing the power of established political parties, which often have agendas other than service to the people. It's particularly useful for electing non-partisan (or anonymously partisan) candidates, where we truly want the best person for the job regardless of party.
JT April 03, 2013 at 06:12 PM
Please Ted--get a grip. Democrats who run receive money from unions, Hollywood elites, state & federal Democratic party, the Gates, Soros & other "wall street" types, gay marriage groups, etc., etc., and then most of them vote the way the progressive/socialist higher-ups tell them to, so all you're telling us here is that you're not interested in what's best to help your city & state regain control of its economy & encourage people in MA to be able to keep more of their hard-earned dollars instead of losing them to Beacon Hill where they are squandered on higher taxes & more waste & fraud (for example, EBT card abuse). As for Norquist & Paul, they support liberty & freedom for YOU AND everyone else in this country, & actually having them support Leah is a good thing, since they ALL support policies that give folks the ability to have a job, take care of themselves/families, & help those who haven't yet obtained those things to attain them--without leaving everyone else, and the state & country, broke. Bottom line to success here is prioritizing & cutting waste to use tax money wisely. Sometimes both parties pay people to knock on doors--important thing to remember is that Leah knocked on doors HERSELF, & those who voted for her understand she will work for fiscally responsible management of their money on Beacon Hill. Hopefully, with help of Lyons & others like him, she'll expand inroads to saving this state from the one-party system that's slowly destroying it.
Bill April 03, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Hey Ted - did you mind that Eliz Warren got 42 Mil- most of it out of state? Tons of it from NY and Hollywood - did that bother you?
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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