By Bethany Bray
PEABODY — Fred Berry has coasted to a 15th term in the state Senate.
The Peabody native and senate majority leader was first elected in 1982 to represent the 2nd Essex District, which includes Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Salem and Topsfield.
Berry, 60, easily defeated political newcomers Richard Jolitz, a Republican, and independent candidate Matthew Fraser.
Berry took Beverly, Danvers, Peabody and Salem while Jolitz carried Topsfield.
"People recognize I was important to the district, and always voted with my heart and conscience," Berry said last night. "The Senate's ready to return to action. These are difficult times. I just feel people wanted a leader like me out there and wanted me to return. ... I thank people for their confidence."
Berry received a total of 36,997 votes. Jolitz, 44, an emergency medical technician from Beverly, received 18,923 votes. Salem resident Fraser, 39, a bouncer at Murphy's bar, received 4,223.
"I learned there are a lot of people out there in tune with what's going on and looking to get involved," Jolitz said. "Maybe things aren't as quite as bad as everybody thinks with the electorate."
Fraser said he would be running again. "People were friendly and interested," he said. ... "I enjoyed (campaigning) thoroughly."
Berry said the top two issues he heard about during the campaign were jobs and education.
Berry far outspent his challengers, going through more than $40,000 in the last two months, compared with $1,700 for Jolitz. Fraser hadn't spent anything as of the Oct. 15 campaign finance report.
Asked what he'll tackle first in his new term, Berry said, "We have to solve the deficit problem," and "we have to begin to make cuts."
"We have a lot of things in front of us," he said.
Berry is known for his support for early learning initiatives and the movement to make Salem State a university. He also served as Senate chairman of the Legislative Children's Caucus for 11 years. Berry is founder of the nonprofit F.B. Charities Inc., which funds social and educational programs for children on the North Shore.
Berry, who lives in Peabody with his wife, Gayle, has served as majority leader since 2003.