By Alan Burke
---- — Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt is petitioning Gov. Deval Patrick for the right to appoint an interim state representative to fill the seat of the late Joyce Spiliotis until the winner of a special election scheduled for April 2 can be sworn in.
Bettencourt foresees a process similar to Patrick’s plan to appoint an interim U.S. senator to replace John Kerry, who is under consideration to be the new U.S. secretary of state. Under state law, the interim senator would serve until a special election can be held.
In a letter to the governor, the mayor stressed that the interim state representative, like the proposed interim senator, would pledge not to run for the seat.
“This individual would be someone with familiarity with the state budget process, as well as constituent service,” he wrote.
No names are suggested, however.
The mayor believes that without a sitting state representative, the city will have a diminished voice at a time when the state budget is being formulated. He wrote, “Particularly during the early portion of the legislative session when your budget proposal is released and district budget priorities articulated, I feel the city of Peabody will be at a significant disadvantage.”
State Rep. Ted Speliotis’ district includes a ward in Peabody but mainly encompasses Danvers.
The mayor does not cite any precedent for giving him the power to make such an appointment nor any law that would allow it.
“I think it’s a very good try,” Speliotis said. “You lose nothing by trying.” But even if Patrick desires to make it happen, he added, “I don’t think the governor has the authority.”
Speliotis pointed to the separation of powers and the fact that the Legislature controls the special election process.
“This letter may need to be resubmitted to the speaker (of the House of Representatives),” he said.
While expressing support for the mayor, Speliotis, the third-most-senior member of the House, stressed his commitment to the interests of the city. “I grew up in downtown Peabody. I still feel a strong alliance to it. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for Peabody.”
On the other hand, he noted the void left on Beacon Hill by the retirement of Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry and the death of Joyce Spiliotis. “(The mayor) is looking to maximize his representation, and I can’t blame him for it.”
Berry also expressed some skepticism that the mayor’s suggestion can be acted on.
“They need to have a good argument, showing the case law, showing that it’s been done before,” he said.
A 30-year veteran on Beacon Hill, Berry said he could not recall a situation where a temporary replacement in the House or Senate has been appointed.
Previously, Berry said, he acted in a situation where Beverly was temporarily without representation (Rep. Jerry Parisella was stationed in Iraq). “I felt I had more responsibility toward Beverly.” If Bettencourt’s initiative fails, he expressed the hope that new Sen. Joan Lovely might do the same for Peabody.
Additionally, Berry noted that the budget might not come before the House until late April.
In his letter to the governor, Bettencourt offered a tribute to Spiliotis, who died in November.
“Her commitment to public service and love of the city of Peabody were an inspiration to all those who knew her,” he wrote.