PEABODY — In an announcement that is rocking Peabody politics, state representative Leah Cole is resigning her seat in the Massachusetts House as of Sept. 28.
The youthful Republican, who first won the job in a special election in 2013, is citing the desire to continue in the career she pursued prior to entering politics — nursing. “As many people know,” she said in statement released yesterday by her office, “prior to being elected to the House of Representatives, I was working as a nurse full-time and continued to work as a nurse part-time after being elected.”
Cole could not be reached to answer questions.
“It has come to a point where I can no longer continue to be the State Representative, as well as pursue my passion of nursing,” she said in her statement. “I decided to get involved in public service because I wanted to contribute to our state policies and invoke positive changes, but I never intended for politics to be a life-long career.”
In announcing her resignation, Cole noted that despite continuing to work as a nurse, she has had a perfect attendance record on Beacon Hill votes. The statement adds that she is “resigning to ensure the people of her district continue to have strong, undivided attention and representation in the future.”
Cole won re-election less than a year ago at age 26, in 2014, beating veteran School Committee member Beverly Griffin-Dunne by a comfortable margin. Her 2013 victory, to fill the unexpired seat of the late Joyce Spiliotis, was a narrow one in a low-turnout, three-way race, including Democrat Dunne and independent City Councilor Dave Gravel. Her rise was aided by GOP activists from outside of Peabody.
Re-election was especially gratifying for Bay State Republicans, who are vastly outnumbered in the legislature. Even local Democrats, like her State House colleague Ted Speliotis (who represents West Peabody) and Mayor Ted Bettencourt, have seen her as a formidable candidate to keep the seat in 2016.
During her first campaign, Cole stressed her intention to continue to work as a nurse. Meanwhile, notes Speliotis, she has continued her education in the field. “I think this was a very courageous thing for her to do,” said Speliotis. “Hopefully it all works out for her. She’s leaving for all the right reasons. ... She wants to go to school full time.” He cited the importance of having a degree and suggested that she might one day return to elective office.
“She’s young enough that her future in politics might not be over.” Although it often seems politicians hang onto House seats for dear life, Speliotis says it just isn’t so. Half the Legislature has turned over since 2010, he said.
Democratic party activist Mike Schulze of Peabody expressed surprise that Cole would step down. “She’s worked very hard. She outworked her opponents. And I’ve seen an improvement in getting things done for the city. ... I wish her the best of luck. Be a nurse. Get that done.”
Republican Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich pointed out that Cole’s efforts to pursue her education were beginning to create conflicts. As for nursing, “She loves that profession. ... This was a very hard decision to make personally and professionally. ... I’m still saddened that she’s decided to leave.”
He predicted, however, that the GOP will work to retain the seat in what he expects will be a special election on a date set by the speaker of the house. “We will have a viable candidate. ... We’re going to try to maintain that seat.” He pointed out that the last two representatives from the 12th Essex District, Democrat Spiliotis and Cole, were relatively conservative, reflecting the politics of the city.
Peabody politicians, meanwhile, begged off on questions over who would run for the open seat. “That’s amazing,” Gravel said when hearing the news. “I never expected that. Not after she went through an election.” Asked if he might seek the job, he replied, “It’s way too early for me to think about that.”
“Good for her,” said City Councilor Tom Gould. “I wish her well. She obviously gave it a lot of thought.” It’s an opportunity for a number of people to get involved, he added, without saying if he would be one of them.
Gould is the brother-in-law of Speliotis, who declined to urge him into the race. “I would very much welcome Tom into the house. But that’s not my call. ...He’d make a great state representative.”
Dunne could not be reached for comment, nor could one of the city’s leading Republicans, school board member Jarrod Hochman, now a candidate for the city council.