BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — Reporter Ethan Forman spent time this week campaigning with the candidates for state representative in the 13th Essex District, which includes all of Danvers; Ward 6 and Ward 5, Precinct 2 in Peabody; and Precinct 2 in Middleton. This is the first of two stories.
DANVERS — Ted Speliotis loves retail politics.
He likes to get out, be seen, chat with residents and spread the word about his campaign, one voter at a time.
And that’s just what the Democratic state representative was doing on a recent afternoon — talking with neighbors, dealing with barking dogs, and at one point shrugging off a cold stare as he went door to door dropping his literature.
At most of the houses Speliotis visits, no one is home, but that’s OK with him. He just keeps moving and dropping.
The idea, he explains, is simply to leave his campaign flier at as many homes as possible. He carries with him a blue and white, two-sided door hanger that pictures him with his granddaughter. The ad lists his accomplishments: a 26 percent increase in local aid for the town, $11.3 million in the state budget to cover homeless student transportation, and his work on the Right to Repair Bill as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.
The often-chatty Speliotis makes it a point to speak with whomever he meets. But today is not meant for door knocking; he does that on weekends, when more people are at home. And he does that alone, without any supporters tagging along, “because that’s the heart and soul of a campaign, that’s what gives you a chance to really get to know people.”
He even has a method to his literature dropping: He heads straight to the back door, as people rarely use the front anymore. While his flier is designed to hang from the doorknob, Speliotis prefers to wedge it in the screen door so the wind won’t take it.
“The important thing is going out and showing your friends that you are out there working and meeting new people,” he said. “You can’t expect a vote unless you can touch someone — touching meaning they have to get to know you.”
Last Monday, Speliotis was not alone in canvassing the neighborhoods in and around Danversport. At 3:30 p.m., he met with a group of 19 supporters, some with children in tow, in the parking lot of Dick’s Sporting Goods near the Liberty Tree Mall. Standing in the back of his pickup truck, Speliotis passed out signs, brochures, “Dear friend” cards and literature.
Among those in attendance were Jim Liacos, president of the Peabody City Council; Danvers River Committee Chairwoman Aileen L’Abbe and committee members Joan George and former Selectman Bill Nicholson; former Selectman Martha Swindell; Town Meeting member Sandra Lane; and others. Speliotis’ daughter, Ashley, 29, was on hand, too, as she is running his campaign.
“I think that he does a good job,” said L’Abbe, a staunch supporter. “I think he should be re-elected. He knows what he is doing.
“He’s a Democrat, most of all,” she added with a chuckle.
Speliotis is one of the most senior lawmakers on Beacon Hill, and with the retirement of Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, he will be one of the longest-serving on the North Shore if he wins re-election. He served in the Legislature from 1979 to 1988 and again from 1997 to now.
He is not above getting out or stuffing envelopes, he says.
For the second time in two years, he is facing a challenge from Republican Dan Bennett, a town selectman who decided at the last minute to run as a write-in candidate in the primary to get his name on the Nov. 6 ballot. It is the only contested state representative race on the North Shore this year. Speliotis narrowly beat Bennett last time. This time around, Speliotis said, an eight-month campaign of organizing, envelope stuffing and literature dropping has been compressed into eight weeks.
“It’s tough because this is how I campaign, and physically you can’t do what you can do in eight months,” Speliotis said. “But you try to replicate it, and you try to make it happen.”
In the Clinton Avenue neighborhood, he runs into Lisa Bucco as she pulls into her driveway. Bucco was involved in one of his first fundraisers in the 1980s, a fashion show at the Danversport Yacht Club. They grew up together on Appleton Street in Danversport.
“He was only a couple doors down,” Bucco said, “so when he was running and starting, the whole neighborhood was helping out.”
Later, he runs across a woman who says he helped her with a special education issue.
He stops to chat with Polly LeBlanc, who is in the area taking care of her grandchildren. “I think it’s great,” she says of his door-to-door campaigning. “ ... It’s so grass-roots. Good for you.”
Why is Speliotis using up so much shoe leather to retain his seat? He learned the importance of hustling, he says, when he was outspent $16,000 to $3,000 in his first election and still won by 800 votes, thanks to hard work. And after losing his seat for a period in the late 1980s, he is acutely aware that he could lose at any time — and he does not plan to give up without a fight.
But there’s more to it than that.
“What motivates me more now than anything else is I know how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am,” he said.
“I chair one of the busiest committees, one of the most important committees in the state. I am able to make a change, I’m able to help out people. I can do more in a month than I used to be able to do in a year, and I’m not giving it up.”
Of course, not everyone is happy to see him. As he stuffs his brochure in a screen door at one home, a German shepherd runs outside, puts its head above the fence to the backyard and growls.
Inside, the homeowner can be seen just inside the closed door, arms folded.
“I don’t think I got the vote there,” Speliotis said. “I don’t have to get them all.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.