PEABODY — Political newcomer and Republican Leah Cole has stunned the experts again by winning the special election to fill the state representative seat left vacant by the death of Joyce Spiliotis.
Cole, 24, did it in a three-way race that drew less than 6,000 people and where no candidate collected more than 2,000 votes. She beat two well-known Peabody challengers, school board member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, who had the backing of the Democratic Party, and City Councilor David Gravel, who had pledged to caucus with the Democrats.
City Clerk Tim Spanos released the unofficial tally at 1,878 for Cole, 1,805 for Griffin Dunne and 1,655 for Gravel.
“Leah! Leah! Leah!” packed supporters chanted as the victor entered Champions Pub.
Standing on a chair in order to be seen, Cole thanked her team and shouted, “We’re sending a message tonight to Beacon Hill.”
Explaining her victory, she said, “I worked hard. I met the people.” She acknowledged the odds she’d overcome, “I had no name recognition. I was a first-time candidate.” But despite that, she added, “My message resonated.”
That message, she declared, was first and foremost opposition to taxes proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick. “Plus the wasteful spending.” She cited news articles about the misuse of welfare benefit cards. “People are just getting tired of it.” Curbing the abuse of those EBT cards will be a prime concern as she takes her seat.
Cole has a daunting task ahead of her in keeping the seat, as it’s not likely she will again face a low turnout, three-way race featuring a Democrat and a former Democrat. But she expects to win over more voters in the weeks to come.
“My voting record will speak for itself,” she said. “I want to vote the way people want me to vote.”