SALEM — Salem City Councilor Joan Lovely has waited years and logged countless hours in her quest to serve on Beacon Hill — and "it was all worth it," she told dozens of supporters in her victory speech after last night's Democratic primary for state Senate. Lovely soundly defeated her Democratic challengers in a primary and is now the heavy favorite to become the next state senator in the 2nd Essex District. "We are where we are tonight because of every single one of you," an elated Lovely told supporters at the Moose Lodge in Salem. "We started back in March knocking on doors. We burned up a lot of shoe leather all across this district."
Lovely, 54, will face Republican Richard Jolitz of Beverly in the November election. Jolitz, however, has done little campaigning so far and has not raised any money. The winner of the November election will replace retiring Sen. Frederick Berry, who has held the seat since 1983.
Berry, a revered figure in the district and in the Statehouse, endorsed Lovely in the race to succeed him and even enlisted his wife to record a robo-call made to voters on the eve of the election. Berry did not attend Lovely's victory party, but called her shortly after the votes were tallied.
"He said he was very proud and congratulations and that he was happy to support me," Lovely said in an interview after her victory speech.
In addition to Berry's influential support, Lovely had backing from popular Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and Salem Rep. John Keenan, who both worked on Lovely's behalf.
"She put together a great organization," said Keenan, who made phone calls and knocked on doors for Lovely. "She really did put in the time walking and knocking on doors. That makes all the difference in a campaign like this."
In the end, Lovely comfortably topped former Peabody state Rep. John Slattery and Governor's Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning, earning just over 50 percent of the district-wide vote, which includes Salem, Beverly, Peabody, Danvers and Topsfield. Slattery finished second with 30 percent, and Manning was a distant third with 17.7 percent. Darkhorse candidate Edward Carroll of Salem, running on a platform to build a hotel casino in Salem, was a distant fourth, garnering just 2 percent of the vote.
Entering the night, no clear favorite in the race had emerged, leaving local pundits stumped as to what might transpire in the highly unusual Thursday primary — only the third time in state history an election was not held on a Tuesday. The date, originally slated for the day after Labor Day, was moved to to avoid conflict with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and accommodate federal election law governing absentee ballots.
As expected, turnout was low — just 15.4 percent of Democratic and unenrolled voters in the district cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Unenrolled voters could choose to vote either in the Democratic or Republican primary.
Lovely did well in her home city of Salem, nabbing 71 percent of the vote.
Slattery had a clear edge in Peabody, getting 44.6 percent of the vote in his home city, with Peabody resident Manning getting 25.7 percent.
The key to the election, however, were wildcards Danvers and Beverly, which both seemed in play for any of the candidates in the days before the election. Both ultimately came out strongly for Lovely — she won 53.7 percent in Beverly and 56 percent in Danvers. Topsfield also favored Lovely, giving her 42 percent of its vote.
"Fred Berry has been an amazing representative and advocate for 30 years," said Lovely, adding that she is honored to succeed him. "I will carry on his good government sense, his good traditions and forge some of my own. ... We're going to win in November."
After walking more than 500 miles and knocking on 7,000 doors across the district since the beginning of the campaign, Lovely said she is going to take the weekend off before continuing her campaign against Republican challenger Joliltz. Then she will "continue to knock on doors. This is a big election and I want to continue to get my message out," she said.
Lovely has been a popular city councilor in Salem, first winning a seat in 1998, then topping the ticket every year since 2003. In her first campaign for higher office, in 2004, she ran against Keenan for Salem's state representative seat and was defeated.
Last night was a much different scene at Lovely headquarters.
When election results flashed onto the projector, a loud roar came from the crowd, most of whom were part of the 300 or so volunteers enlisted to hold signs, knock on doors and make phone calls to get out the vote.
Chants of "We want Joan," started rising through the lodge.
"I have just two words: landslide," said Mayor Driscoll, drawing a loud roar from the crowd. "She outworked 'em, she outwalked 'em, and brought it all the way home to be our next state senator."