By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Money can’t buy you love, and it can’t always buy you votes, either.
Totals on the April special election to fill the state representative seat formerly held by the late Joyce Spiliotis show that winner Leah Cole raised more than $37,000 while spending a little less than $35,000.
But City Councilor Dave Gravel raised more than $40,000, spending more than $39,000, only to finish in third place. More striking is the fact School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne, who lost to Cole by a mere 73 votes, spent roughly $14,000 of $15,000 raised.
Republican Cole won 1,878 votes in a low-turnout election on April 2, with Griffin Dunne reaching 1,805 and Gravel scoring 1,655. It’s been assumed that Griffin Dunne, a Democrat, and Gravel, a former Democrat, split that party’s vote, allowing the GOP victory.
“Historically the person who has the most money always has the edge,” commented former five-term Peabody Mayor Mike Bonfanti. “What this says is that Bev was out there hustling and over the years she has banked up a very solid base of support.”
Both Gravel and Griffin Dunne have won citywide in the past. Bonfanti, who backed Gravel, believes that it’s Griffin Dunne’s strong ties with the schools that helped her. In a low-turnout election teachers and school parents are more likely to vote, as the polling places are often located at schools.
Griffin Dunne’s strong showing could be a harbinger for the next election, when Cole is unlikely to have the luxury of a three-person race.
On the other hand, Bonfanti notes that Peabody is developing a reputation as an electoral maverick. He cites the fact that the losing Democrat in the recent special primary election for the U.S. Senate, Stephen Lynch, won this city. “Peabody is unique,” said Bonfanti. “In Peabody they don’t like to be told. They don’t like to be put in a pocket.”
Meanwhile, as she did prior to the primary, Cole enjoyed strong financial support from Republicans outside of Peabody. The party saw the special election as an opportunity to bolster its small minority on Beacon Hill. Only 22 of the 129 itemized donations she received following her primary victory (and totaling roughly $10,000) were from Peabody residents.
Top Cole contributors for the post-primary period include $920 from two Republican Party political action committees, $200 from former GOP state treasurer candidate Karyn Politio of Worcester, $250 from Kimberly Shephard of Northborough, $500 from Donald Berrian of Topsfield, $250 from Bruce Bauman of Dedham and $250 from Richard Gullotti of Bolton.
No Peabody resident gave Cole more than $100. During the course of the entire campaign the Marlborough Republican City Committee donated roughly $10,000. More than $3,000 went to her campaign manager, Ryan Chamberland, who is now her chief of staff on Beacon Hill.
Cole lists no liabilities.
All but one of Griffin Dunne’s nine post primary contributions came from Peabody residents, the exception being $250 from the Massachusetts Nursing Association. The largest contribution, $660, came from Kim Bressler. Dunne gave more than $350 to the effort and printing consumed much of the money.
Gravel lists only five donors following the primary with his own $7,500 contribution by far the largest. Also helping the effort were David Modica of Marblehead at $500 and Peabody lawyer Jack Keilty at $200. Gravel ended the campaign owing himself for nearly $26,000 in loans.
The bulk of Gravel’s expenditures were in printing costs and assistance from the public relations firm Corbett and Lalli.