, Salem, MA

April 5, 2013

Benton: Cole proves them wrong in Peabody

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Who said a Republican couldn’t win in Peabody?

Leah Cole, 24, defied the GOP establishment, the conventional wisdom (and certainly the prognostications of this observer), and several decades of Democratic hegemony in Peabody on Tuesday by winning the state representative seat left vacant by the death of former state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis.

Not since Republican Peter Torkildsen knocked off then-House Majority Leader John E. Murphy Jr. of West Peabody in 1984 has there been a political upset of this magnitude in the Tanner City.

Give credit to Cole for her willingness to put herself out there and work hard for the seat most assumed would go either to the Democratic candidate, Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, or the unenrolled David Gravel. Both have many years of service on local elected bodies.

Griffin Dunne, a member of the school board, benefited from a big push by the party organization the weekend before the special election and was touted by members of Spiliotis’ family as the candidate best able to continue to veteran legislator’s work and prevent the “tea party candidate” (Cole) from destroying her legacy. Gravel, who’s run successfully citywide for both the City Council and School Committee, had the backing of several prominent politicians, including City Council President Tom Gould and former Mayor Michael Bonfanti.

A low turnout and the split in Democratic ranks created by the presence of Griffin Dunne and Gravel (he was unenrolled but had said he would caucus with the Democrats in the House if elected) on the ballot, helped propel Cole to the narrow win. But her victory should also serve as a warning to those on Beacon Hill who saw the results of last year’s presidential and congressional elections as an invitation to raise taxes.

Ironically, Cole’s victory came on the same day that members of the legislative leadership unveiled a plan to increase the gasoline tax by 3 cents a gallon to fund infrastructure improvements in the commonwealth. That would yield considerably less than the net $1.9 billion in additional revenue that Gov. Deval Patrick is seeking through a combination of tax hikes and reductions; but based on what happened in Peabody this week, Democrats had best be wary of any attempt to take more money out of taxpayers’ pockets. (The joint House-Senate plan also provides for indexing the gas tax to inflation, allowing the tax to go up in the future without legislators having to take a vote, and would impose another in a seemingly endless series of tax hikes on whom they have found to be an easy target — smokers.)

Republicans’ euphoria might be tempered, however, by the tale of another upset in a nearby community that took place more than a dozen years ago. In 1990, an unknown by the name of James R. Henry succeeded in unseating longtime Beverly state Rep. Frances Alexander. Two years later, he lost to Michael Cahill and was never heard from again.


Datebook: The committee backing David Mills’ candidacy for selectman in Danvers is holding a spaghetti dinner fundraiser tonight from 5 to 9 at the Polish Club. ... Local supporters of South Boston Congressman and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Lynch will hold a fundraiser Thursday, April 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 43 Church restaurant in downtown Salem.


Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at