BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — Reporter Ethan Forman spent time last 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 second of two stories.
DANVERS — Having the skills of a real estate broker has come in handy for Selectman Dan Bennett, the Republican challenger for state representative for the second time in two years.
Bennett, the owner of the Dan Bennett Real Estate just off Danvers Square, knows a thing or two about building signs. And in this shortened campaign season, he knows he will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting himself.
“I don’t have paid staff,” he noted.
So, on a busy morning last week, Bennett was heading out to put up a sign at the corner of Vineyard and Maple streets (Route 62) after a friend called him with a simple request: “‘I want the biggest sign you have on my lawn.”
Unfortunately, one of his largest, a 3-by-6-footer with his picture on it, had been “altered” when someone drew a mustache on his face as it stood on Water Street. So Bennett took it down, cut the picture off and took the smaller sign to his friend’s home.
He also brought along some metal poles, a post driver, a cordless electric drill and some blocks of wood he used to attach the sign to the poles.
Bennett and his supporters have been out trying to reach voters throughout the district, in Danvers, West Peabody and Middleton, organizing teams to drop literature.
Like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Bennett is running a no-huddle offense, having jumped into the race at the last minute with a successful write-in campaign to get on the Republican primary ballot. The move triggered the only race for state representative on the North Shore, between Bennett and Democratic incumbent Ted Speliotis, two men who grew up in Danvers and graduated from Danvers High.
Even if he’d run a long campaign, Bennett said, he’d still be out there now, putting up signs in the days leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
“In the end (of a campaign), you are always putting up signs,” Bennett said. “People don’t like them early. People all of a sudden decide — the ‘undecideds’ decide — who they want to vote for, and they want people to know, and they want their friends and neighbors to know.”
Bennett hopes to help them decide through his literature drops, including the letter he dropped at homes last week. In the letter, he tells voters he wants to eliminate the waste of warehousing people in motels, as the state has been doing by using several Danvers motels as emergency shelters for the homeless. He cites his experience in real estate and his tenure on the Affordable Housing Committee as giving him an understanding of the problems associated with housing the homeless.
His letter touts his experience, from his six years as a Danvers selectman, including serving as chairman last year, to his stints as a Town Meeting member and service on the Zoning Board of Appeals, library trustees, School Committee and Essex Aggie board of trustees.
He also takes aim at Speliotis, saying the representative’s efforts in winning $100,000 in state funding this year to pay for transportation of homeless students is too little, too late. It’s cost the town $400,000 in the past four years, he said.
The question is, if Bennett does have support and supporters, why does he prefer to walk the neighborhoods doing these literature drops alone?
“The nice thing when you are out walking the neighborhoods — people see you, and they know you are working, and that’s the most important thing about it,” Bennett said.
Being self-employed, Bennett said his work schedule is flexible. Open house showings are done on Sundays. He has a schedule mapped out when he is holding signs and when he plans to walk the neighborhoods. The Danvers Board of Selectmen does not meet again until after the election, though Bennett had plans to observe a selectmen’s meeting in Middleton.
Two years ago, Bennett said, he surprised a lot of people by losing to Speliotis by only about 400 votes.
“I gained a lot of name recognition, especially in West Peabody,” Bennett said, “and that is paying benefits now because people know me.”
As Bennett drops literature on Hood Road, he notes that there are benefits to pounding the pavement, even when no one is at home.
“The exercise is good,” he said. “I get to meet people when the weather is nice and get to talk to them.”
An extra challenge this year is that it’s also a presidential election, which can overshadow the state rep race.
“They all want to know who I’m going to vote for for president,” Bennett said. “It’s amazing.”
Later, he heads to Anthony Lane, Arrowhead Road, Tomahawk Lane and Germano Drive to drop his campaign literature. The houses have large lots, and the neighborhood is spread out, making it more time-consuming to reach each house. To save time, he places his literature on the red flags attached to the mailboxes.
He meets only a couple of people in his walk around this large neighborhood. It’s all worth it, however, if it places him nearer his goal of a Statehouse seat.
“I like working with people. I like solving their problems. I like seeing a first-time homebuyer family move into a house,” Bennett said, explaining that his job as a real estate broker dovetails with his desire to be in politics.
“It’s the same thing, helping constituents with their problems and issues, and helping them resolve them.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.