By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Five candidates have filed the signatures needed to compete in the special election for Peabody’s representative on Beacon Hill. The seat was left vacant by the November death of Rep. Joyce Spiliotis.
The endorsements of at least 150 people were needed to qualify for the ballot.
The electoral lineup should assure three candidates in the final election on April 2. City Councilor Dave Gravel, at present unenrolled — meaning he is not affiliated with any party — is assured of a spot on the ballot. But two Democrats and two Republicans must slug it out in a March 5 primary, with one each being eliminated.
Facing off for the GOP are Greg Bunn and Leah Cole, while the Democrat side will see a contest between School Committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne and former Ward Councilor James Moutsoulas.
This state representative district is exclusive to Peabody, although it includes only wards 1, 2, 3 and 4 and precincts 1 and 3 of Ward 5.
Cole, 24, is a nurse who lives in South Peabody and has not run for political office before. Bunn, who lives in West Peabody, was born in 1971. He works at the North Shore Career Centers, according to his website.
It’s the pair’s lack of political experience in a predominantly Democratic district that makes each a long-shot candidate, according to former Mayor Michael Bonfanti, a Democrat. “It might come down to who can marshal their forces.”
In that case, candidates who have run citywide previously might have an edge.
Democratic Party activist Mike Schulze echoes Bonfanti’s views, although he praises Bunn.
“He seems like a nice kid, and he’s going to give it a shot.”
Most voters will come from the downtown, Schulze predicts, which should help Moutsoulas, who was undefeated as ward councilor.
“He’s a Democrat for a long time. ... He’s strong in Ward 3.”
But Dunne has a citywide organization, Schluze said, and both he and Bonfanti predict that she will have the crucial support of Dick Jarvis, husband of Joyce Spiliotis.
“According to Dick, she’s the heir apparent,” Schulze said.
The city unions will also provide clout, Bonfanti said, and he notes Dunne’s close ties to unionized school employees. He expects her to beat Moutsoulas.
“I would assume (the final election) will be between Dave and Beverley,” he said.
Schulze downplays the impact of Gravel’s unenrolled status.
“I don’t think it will work against him,” he said. “He’s already said he’ll caucus with the Democrats.”
Bonfanti agrees. “When you look at where people are today, there are more enrolled. People are not involved in the party system.”
Possibly the most important person in the race, outside of the candidates, will be current Mayor Ted Bettencourt, Bonfanti suggests. What he does or does not do could help determine the outcome.
Finally, Bonfanti notes that he has ties with several of the candidates, having grown up with Moutsoulas and having served with Dunne and Gravel on the School Committee.
“They’re all decent people,” he said of the five hopefuls. “And it should be an interesting race.”