BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS — When Ted Speliotis was growing up in a Greek-American family of Democrats in Peabody and Danvers, politics was considered a topic of conversation, not a career.
“My dad wasn’t political,” Speliotis said, but the family did talk about politics and civil rights issues. The Vietnam War was raging, there was civil unrest in the nation, and his father, a World War II veteran, came out against the war.
“‘That’s just a swamp,’” Speliotis recalls his late father, Charles, telling him. “‘They can say what they want, but we don’t need that swamp...’”
Today, the state representative for the 13th Essex District describes himself as a hard-working lawmaker who, after toiling for many years in the Legislature, has achieved a senior position as co-chairman of the busy Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.
The Democrat said he lives and breathes his Statehouse post. It is a different path than those taken by other family members. Speliotis’ father graduated from Peabody High in 1943 but never went to college. However, he pushed his children to do so, and to make something of their lives.
When Ted Speliotis began studying political science at Northeastern University, Charles Speliotis asked his son what he planned to do with his education.
“He would say, ‘What are you going to do with this degree?’” Ted Speliotis said. “I didn’t have an answer.”
That was until Speliotis spotted a poster at Northeastern that announced liberal arts majors could also earn teacher certification. Speliotis found a job as a substitute teacher at the then-Holten Richmond Junior High.
His teaching job paid dividends, he said. During his first campaign in 1978, his students helped him drop campaign literature around the district in just two hours, he said.
While he’s identified as the Danvers state representative, Speliotis’ roots are in Peabody. He grew up across the street from St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church on Paleologos Street. The site of his childhood home is now a parking lot. He is the oldest of four — younger brother Jim of Danvers; sister Debbie, who lives in California; and youngest sister, Sharon, who is married to Tom Gould of Peabody. They own Treadwell’s Ice Cream in Peabody.
When Speliotis was 10, his father built a house on Appleton Street in Danversport. Speliotis likes to joke that if his father had not moved to town, he would not have had a political career. He describes himself as a shy kid who never ran for student government at Danvers High, from which he graduated in 1971. However, when the voting age was lowered to 18, he and a friend got elected to Town Meeting.
Two things shaped his desire to become a state representative.
Right after Speliotis’ family moved to Danvers, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“We were dismissed from school and that weekend everything came to a stop,” said Speliotis, who is now 59. He remembers being glued to the television set all weekend.
“All I could think of was, wow, if such a big deal could be made out of one person, imagine all the things that person can do,” Speliotis said. “And, that was what really motivated me.”
Another motivator was his seventh-grade U.S. history teacher named Ed Quinn, who took a liking to Speliotis. The teacher even put him on stage to represent the seventh grade in a debate on the Middle East, Speliotis recalls.
In the summers during college, Speliotis landed a job with the National Park Service, first working at Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, then at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York after he graduated. Speliotis worked as a school coordinator and wrote lesson plans for local school groups.
In 1977, Speliotis left New York for the North Shore to run for office in 1978.
After redistricting, his home wound up in a district in which 80 percent of the vote came from Peabody and three precincts were in Danvers. He was outspent, but hustled and managed to beat Charlie O’Donnell in the Democratic primary. He later beat Republican and former longtime Peabody City Councilor Frank Wiggin in the general election.
“That’s what started my career,” said Speliotis, who said he wanted to be a state representative because “you could write legislation that affected change on a large scale.”
Speliotis’ life changed again when his father died at 55, after suffering a mild stroke in 1979, Speliotis’ first year in office.
“I watched for eight weeks, my dad lie (unconscious) at Hunt Hospital ... and watch families agonize every day over life and death questions.”
That experience led Speliotis to sponsor health care proxy legislation with former state Rep. Richard Voke of Chelsea. The legislation allowed a person to name another to carry out one’s end-of-life wishes. They filed the bill in 1980. It took about 10 years to pass, Speliotis said.
In 1986, Speliotis’ legislative career came to an abrupt halt when he lost his 12th Essex District seat by 72 votes to Peabody City Councillor Tom Walsh in the Democratic primary. Speliotis said at the time, neither of Peabody’s state representatives lived in the city. Walsh used this to his advantage. Speliotis said he got 86 percent of the vote in Danvers, but he could not make up the difference in Peabody.
“It’s one of the things that motivates me to keep campaigning, is that I know that that can happen at any time,” Speliotis said about the possibility he could lose.
A year later, Speliotis won election as Danvers town moderator, and served in that position for seven years. He also worked in government affairs for Northeastern University.
In 1997, former Danvers state Rep. Sally Kerans decided not to run for re-election, and Speliotis won her seat representing the 13th Essex District. Redistricting had shifted much of Peabody to the 12th Essex, and Speliotis wound up living in the 13th Essex.
At the time, Speliotis had wanted to run again, and he recalled being urged to do so by Voke.
“‘Teddy, I hear if you run, you’d be the favorite to win,’” Speliotis recalls Voke telling him.
Speliotis’ Peabody background may come into play in this fall’s rematch with Danvers Selectman Dan Bennett, given the district now includes more of West Peabody, Ward 6 and Ward 5, precinct 2. The district also includes precinct 2 in Middleton, and Topsfield is no longer part of the district.
“My roots are deep,” Speliotis said of his ties to Peabody. “Not only are my roots deep, I care a lot about the city and its growth.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers Age: 59 Wife: June, married 32 years Education: Danvers High Class of 1971; Graduated Northeastern University in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in political science with a teaching certificate. Occupation: Full-time legislator, 1979 to 1986; 1997 to the present. Formerly worked for Northeastern University in the government affairs office. Other elected positions: Town Meeting member, Danvers town moderator Children: Daughters Pia and Ashley; granddaughter Kayla Marie.