By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Peabody has seemingly always been consumed by politics. And inevitably the appearance of an open office anywhere touches off a fever of speculation over who might be angling to fill it.
That isn’t the case, however, following the unexpected death of state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis after an illness. The passing of the popular former city councilor and lifelong Peabody resident has proved shocking enough to freeze all the action. Out of respect, the likely candidates aren’t talking, and even the speculators are holding their judgments close.
Nevertheless, a special election is likely to be scheduled by the new House of Representatives on Beacon Hill after it takes office on Jan. 2. A final election, on the other hand, would be months away.
“Probably in the spring,” said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin.
McNiff explained that the process is entirely in the hands of the House. They could even decide not to hold a special election, although almost certainly it would be scheduled soon after they begin the new session.
“Then the process of holding the election takes about 14 weeks,” he said.
Candidates would be required to come up with 150 signatures in order to be placed on the primary ballot. A primary election would be held for both parties, even if no one has gathered the signatures. “Because there are write-ins.”
In order to be successful, a write-in candidate must win at least 150 votes from his party.
The general election follows. Traditionally, a special election prompts a low turnout and gives an advantage to the candidate who can muster a good campaign organization capable of getting supporters to the polls.
Former Democratic City Committee member Mike Schulze has a reputation for knowing everything worth knowing in Peabody. But he admitted that the death of Spiliotis was a shock to him, as well. Only reluctantly did he consider what might happen next.
“A lot of people are going to carefully look it over,” he said of potential candidates. “It’s not like somebody has been chasing the seat.”
He cautioned that mentions of people like former Mayor Michael Bonfanti or even local officeholders often fail to note the nature of serving in the Legislature, which is dominated by its leadership. “Do they want to be a little fish in a big pond?”
On the other hand, there is prestige, he concedes, sitting in one of the world’s oldest continuously serving elective bodies, working beneath the Sacred Cod in “old wooden desks with inkwells in them.”
Past candidates and some of those talked about as possible candidates uniformly rejected the notion of discussing electoral plans out of respect for the family.
“It would be insensitive,” said City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin, who lost to Spiliotis in a hard-fought campaign in 2002.
“It’s too early,” former City Councilor Jim Moutsoulas said. “I’m still in shock over it. Joyce and I were classmates in high school.”
Sean Fitzgerald ran against Spiliotis and narrowly lost in 2006. He ran most recently and unsuccessfully for mayor in 2011.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to speak,” he said.
Currently the town manager of Plaistow, N.H., Fitzgerald remains a Peabody resident.
City Councilor Tom Gould was likewise mum on future plans.
“We need to wait a little while out of respect to Joyce’s family,” he said.
Others mentioned as possible candidates are City Councilor Dave Gravel and School Committee member Beverley Griffin-Dunne.
Bonfanti is ruling himself out, citing contentment with retirement.