SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 4, 2013

At-large council race dominates Peabody election

BY ALAN BURKE
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — Election day is tomorrow with nine candidates vying for five seats as at-large councilors and three ward council seats up for grabs.

At the top of the ballot, Mayor Ted Bettencourt is unopposed, and the lack of a tussle at the top may be one reason City Clerk Tim Spanos sees a 28 percent turnout tomorrow. The estimate is based on things like absentee ballots, and Spanos noted that it might be different “if the mayor’s race was contested.” Even so, he added, “We expect the race for at-large councilor and ward councilor will bring people out.”

Meanwhile, Spanos alerted voters that despite what they’ve read about efforts to remove polling places from schools, no decision has been made, and voters can vote where they have voted previously, including at schools.

Only four incumbents are seeking the five at-large seats as a result of the retirement of Jim Liacos, who will enjoy a break from campaigning for the first time in seven City Council elections. Veterans Mike Garabedian, Dave Gravel and Anne Manning-Martin (all former School Committee members, as well) are seeking re-election, along with Tom Gould, who is vying for his second term. They will be contesting with former state representative, former at-large councilor and former school board member Tom Walsh, library trustee Margaret Tierney, past candidate Russ Donovan and newcomers Scott Frasca and Peter Bakula.

Longtime Ward 2 councilor Arthur Athas faces a challenge from novice candidate Peter McGinn, brother of Mayor Peter Torigian’s campaign manager John McGinn. In Ward 3, as a result of the retirement of longtime Councilor Rico Mello, former candidate Thomas Serino is matched against former councilor Jim “Demo” Moutsoulas. And Ward 5 sees former at-large candidate Robert Croce battling Joel Saslaw, as a result of veteran Dave Gamache stepping down.

The post of library trustee has drawn six candidates seeking four seats. Incumbents Don McAllister and Jean Ahearn are in the mix with Paul Misci, Louis Chinappi, Stephanie Najjar and Robert Forti.

People must be happy with education in Peabody, as the School Committee race drew no new opponents for three incumbent candidates seeking re-election. Three seats are available with Jarrod Hochman, Beverley Griffin-Dunne and Tom Rossignol more than likely to be returned. Similarly, incumbent Charles Bonfanti is the only candidate for a single seat on the Peabody Municipal Lighting Commission.

For Liacos, this is the first election in 14 years where he isn’t on the ballot. It’s a bit of a relief, he said, because when you’re competing for a spot, “It’s a full court press.” That means phone calls, mailings, door knocking, holding signs while waving at passers-by and organizing campaign people. It’s an effort ongoing on “for 30 days before the election. ... You spend the last week going to every political party there is.”

You run scared, Liacos said, and if you don’t run scared, you probably shouldn’t be running at all. In big elections, for mayor or state representative, you organize “poll checking” before Tuesday, preparing a list of all your friends and all the people who have promised you their votes. Next, you get people to the polls to check off the names of those who show up.

“If it’s 4 or 5:00, and so-and-so hasn’t voted yet, you get them down there,” he said.

Putting aside his support for Bettencourt, who has no opponent and school board member Dave McGeney, who isn’t up for re-election this time, Liacos has no extraordinary ties to any of the candidates on tomorrow’s ballot. However, he expects the race for councilor-at-large to be dominated by people who have already shown an ability to run for office and hold it. On the other hand, he urged those first-timers who aren’t successful to keep at it.

“I ran and lost for School Committee the first time,” he recalled.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.