DANVERS — State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, one of the most senior lawmakers on Beacon Hill, trounced anti-pipeline activist and West Peabody businessman Bob Croce Jr. as the two squared off in a 13th Essex District Democratic primary that saw a low turnout of diehard voters and supporters.
In what was one of the few legislative primary races around, Speliotis beat back the challenge, 1,901 votes to 1,087 votes for Croce, according to an unofficial tally on a whiteboard at the Speliotis campaign’s victory party at the Polish Club on Cheever Street in Danvers.
Speliotis garnered all eight precincts in Danvers and earned 1,308 votes to Croce’s 401 in Danvers, in unofficial results. With no Republican challenger in the general election in November, Speliotis should sail to his 15th term in the Legislature.
Speliotis also won Precinct 2 in Middleton, but lost all four precincts in West Peabody, which was Croce’s hometown. While Croce won nearly 200 more votes than Speliotis in West Peabody, it was not enough to catch veteran lawmaker.
“It kind of blows you away, all of it,” Speliotis said to his cheering supporters at the Polish Club. He said he and his supporters took this campaign seriously, given it was a primary race, and there would be a low voter turnout, making every vote count. He seemed to thank nearly everyone in the room by name, including his friends and family.
“I really appreciate it because people were challenged,” said Speliotis, thanking Peabody School Committee member Brandi Carpenter for endorsing him.
“It’s really easy to not do things, it’s a lot harder to think of things and accomplish it,” Speliotis told supporters, trying to reflect a positive attitude during the campaign.
“I really thank each and everyone of you sticking with us,” he added. “I don’t think there is a political family stronger than ours,” he said. Speliotis recalled his early years campaigning in Danvers, back when he lived in Danversport.
He also got support from his fellow North Shore lawmakers, as state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, stopped by his party to congratulate him.
“I want to tell my opponent, no matter how many times, we are not going away,” Speliotis said, thanking state Rep. Jerry Parisella for standing out and stumping for him yesterday. Other North Shore lawmakers did not face primary fights this go-round.
“Are we happy, Kayla (Freeley, 4)?” Speliotis asked his granddaughter as he swung her in front of him. Speliotis also has a grandson, Teddy Freeley.
Croce wanted to thank his friends, family and supporters who worked hard for him.
“First of all, we had so many people, there was so much love and support of family and friends,” Croce said in a phone interview. He said people “worked their tails off” all summer for him. Standing out at the polling location at Danvers High on Thursday, he said many voters came up to him and thanked him for running.
His message: “Change takes time.”
Croce, 53. served as chairman of Peabody Citizens United, a grass-roots group that fought against a proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline, portions of which were proposed to run through West Peabody, Danvers and Middleton. The pipeline company suspended work on the project in April.
Croce also publishes a blog called “Eye on Peabody.” In the past, he has run unsuccessfully for Peabody City Council and School Committee. Croce is also a member of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee, and a delegate to the Democratic State Convention.
“Eventually, we will get a government that works for the people instead of the lobbyists and power brokers,” said Croce, who has stuck to this theme as a criticism of Speliotis during the campaign. He knew it would be an uphill battle for a resident of West Peabody to go against an established Danvers politician.
“He really worked hard, no doubt about that,” Croce said. “We challenged him,” said Croce, who said even Speliotis would say his campaign made him work hard.
The turnout was low, but steady in Danvers. As of 6:45 p.m. Thursday, 1,932 voters cast votes at the Vye gym at Danvers High, a 10 percent turnout. The 13th Essex District is made up of Danvers, Middleton, Precinct 2; Peabody, Ward 5, Precinct 2, and all of Peabody Ward 6.
Speliotis, 62, serves as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. Speliotis battled in his first primary fight since he ran to get back into the Legislature in 1996.
Speliotis served in the 12th Essex District from 1979 to 1986, when he lost in the Democratic primary.
He regained a seat in the Legislature in 1997, this time in the 13th Essex, and he has served in this seat since then.
Speliotis has beat back three spirited challenges from Republicans in the past six years, from West Peabody’s Tom Lyons in 2014 and from Danvers Selectman Dan Bennett in 2010 and 2012.
How they voted in the 13th Essex District
Danvers, Precinct 1
Danvers, Precinct 2
Danvers, Precinct 3
Danvers, Precinct 4
Danvers, Precinct 5
Danvers, Precinct 6
Danvers, Precinct 7
Danvers, Precinct 8
Middleton, Precinct 2
Peabody, Ward 5
Peabody Ward 6
Ward 6, Precinct 1
Ward 6, Precinct 2
Ward 6, Precinct 3