By Ethan Forman
DANVERS — Despite anti-incumbent sentiment and opposition from most of this town's Board of Selectmen, Democratic state Rep. Ted Speliotis last night fended off a strong challenge from Danvers Selectman Dan Bennett.
It was a hard-fought but respectful race to represent the 13th Essex District on Beacon Hill.
As a sign of that respect, Bennett went to the Polish Club on Cheever Street in Danvers where Speliotis held his victory party to shake the hand of the 57-year-old full-time legislator whom he nearly beat.
Bennett conceded after learning of his defeat by fewer than 500 votes at his home on Page Street, where he was surrounded by supporters and family.
"It was a good campaign," Bennett said. "Everything went well, everybody did a nice job, I had a lot of great volunteers, but in the end it was not enough to pull it off."
A jubilant Speliotis stood next to his wife of 30 years, June, as he gave his victory speech before a packed room.
"I want to thank everybody here more than any time I've ever thanked anybody, because I know it wasn't easy," Speliotis said.
"We thank you for working for your constituents," chimed in supporter Fran Weil of Danvers.
Speliotis' unofficial, razor-thin, 494-vote margin represented less than 3 percent of the nearly 17,000 votes cast for each candidate in the district. The tally was 8,740 for Speliotis and 8,246 for Bennett.
"In a very weird way, every election is very special, they are all different," said Speliotis, accepting his win and his eighth term.
Speliotis said he won despite a majority of Danvers selectmen backing Bennett. Danvers represents about 75 percent of his district.
Speliotis, a Peabody native and 1971 graduate of Danvers High and former Danvers Town Moderator, said he had a lot to overcome because of that.
"There was an awful lot against us," said Speliotis, thanking his "entire extended family in this room."
Speliotis said he survived a wave of sentiment for Republicans, with unsuccessful gubernatorial challenger Charlie Baker, a Swampscott businessman, beating Gov. Deval Patrick in Danvers, 5,595 to 4,021.
"We bucked the tide," Speliotis said in an interview.
Speliotis also survived because of his margin of victory in Danvers and West Peabody.
Bennett, meanwhile, bested Speliotis in Topsfield by 255 votes: 1,676 to 1,421.
The key to the race, Bennett said, was "not doing better in Topsfield. It didn't offset Peabody."
Speliotis beat Bennett, 61, in Danvers 5,400 to 5,004, a difference of just 396 votes, and a margin of victory of less than 4 percent, not including write-ins and blanks.
Turnout in Danvers stood at 59.5 percent.
In Ward 6 in Peabody, Speliotis won with 1,919 votes to Bennett's 1,566, a difference of 353 votes. About 64 percent of voters turned out in Ward 6.
"You are a magician," Kosma Evangelidis of Peabody told Speliotis at the Polish Club. The Peabody man and fellow trustee at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School with Bennett ran Bennett's campaign.
Speliotis, meanwhile, has two daughters, Pia, 29, and Ashley, 27, and they both worked hard on their father's campaign, Speliotis said in a prior interview.
Speliotis is one of the most senior members of the state legislature. He served as a state representative from 1979 to 1986 in a district that once covered three precincts in Danvers and most of Peabody, before losing in his bid for re-election by 72 votes to Tom Walsh, a former city councilor in Peabody.
Both Bennett and Speliotis, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, ran grass-roots campaigns that featured both candidates walking neighborhoods to spread their message.
"How many doors did you knock on?" asked former Danvers Selectman Bill Nicholson during Speliotis' victory speech.
"A lot," Speliotis said.
"I heard it was 12,000," Nicholson said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by e-mail at email@example.com.