BY ALAN BURKE
---- — PEABODY — Unofficial returns have given at-large City Councilor Tom Gould the highest vote total in yesterday’s at-large City Council race at 5,384. Meanwhile, former councilor Tom Walsh also scored, taking the seat left vacant by the retiring Jim Liacos with the second-highest total at 5,110.
The remaining incumbent at-large councilors — Dave Gravel, Anne Manning-Martin and Mike Garabedian — have retained their seats, besting Scott Frasca, Margaret Tierney, Russ Donovan and Peter Bakula in the tussle for five at-large seats.
With no opponent on the ballot, popular first-term Mayor Ted Bettencourt was an easy winner, becoming the city’s top vote-getter with 7,354 (1,118 left the box blank).
“I’m thrilled,” said Gould as he celebrated with and thanked supporters at the Knights of Columbus Hall. “We worked hard. We didn’t take anything for granted. I had 1,000 volunteers and 138 people manning the polls.”
Asked what this might mean for his future, Gould, often suggested as a potential challenger to state Rep. Leah Cole, dismissed the idea for now.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” he said, adding that he just wants to enjoy this triumph.
Walsh, who also served as a state representative in the 1980s, was greeted with cheers as he arrived at Wardhurst Restaurant shortly after polls closed. Enthusiasm had been building steadily as volunteers put the at-large council numbers on a white board and Walsh’s totals mounted.
“I’m very excited,” Walsh said. “I’m looking forward to getting involved again. ... It feels great, and the people in this room are the ones responsible for this. They introduced me to their family and friends. They brought me to their cookouts.”
In an exception to Peabody’s usual reluctance to kick out incumbents, veteran Ward 2 Councilor Arthur Athas was beaten convincingly, 702 to 437, by well-financed challenger Peter McGinn. In Ward 3 where Rico Mello has retired, former councilor Jim Moutsoulas will return to his seat, having bested Thomas Serino. In Ward 5, television pundit Robert Croce was topped by Joel Saslaw, who had support from people including the mayor, in a race to succeed the retiring Dave Gamache.
Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne, Ward 4’s Bob Driscoll and Ward 6’s Barry Sinewitz had no opposition.
Other office holders able to skate to re-election unopposed included three sitting School Committee members: Jarrod Hochman, Beverley Griffin-Dunne and Tom Rossignol. Dunne, who ran for state representative in last winter’s special election, was the high scorer with 6,355 votes.
Bettencourt, in his first try at re-election, proved popular enough to scare off any opponent. Stepping in for the retiring Michael Bonfanti two years ago, his first term was marked by the decision to build a $92 million middle school (the state is paying about half that) and a strong start toward the rehabilitation of the downtown. More recently, he won votes to appropriate $7.6 million for improvements that include restoring West Peabody’s Crystal Lake and installing a turf football field at the high school.
Supporter and longtime Democratic party official Mike Schulze credits Bettencourt’s energy and ideas with his ability to discourage opposition.
“He’s been straight out from the day he got in. You can hardly get to him, he’s so busy. And he’s got a lot done,” he said.
Schulze was likewise not surprised by Walsh, noting that he’s seen large crowds at all his events. “Because he’s a known factor. He’s been around a long time. A councilor, school committee member, state representative and funeral home director. He’s a guy everybody knows.”
He also noted the popularity of Tom Gould across the city. “I guess people like ice cream,” he joked — Gould owns Treadwells.
Victory came easy for the lone candidate to sit on the Peabody Municipal Light Plant board, incumbent Charles Bonfanti, brother of former Mayor Mike Bonfanti.
The six candidates running for four seats as library trustee included winners Jean Ahearn and Donald MacAllister, both incumbents, and Stephanie Najjar and Paul Misci.
Alan Burke can be reached at email@example.com.