In a surprise outcome, voters in Peabody on Tuesday elected Republican Leah Cole to the state Legislature to represent the 12th Essex District, filling the seat left vacant after the death of state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis (D-Peabody).
Spiliotis lost to a battle with cancer in late November after serving 10 years in the Massachusetts House. She was 65.
Cole, a 24-year-old first-time candidate, beat Democrat Beverley Griffin Dunne by a margin of 35 percent to 34 percent, leaving Independent Dave Gravel with 31 percent of the votes in a tight race, according to unofficial returns.
“I feel so excited and grateful to the voters in Peabody for believing in my message and what I’m trying to bring to the State House and I’m so happy that my message resonated with them,” Cole said. “I can represent the people of Peabody very well.”
Cole, a nurse with no previous political experience, is primarily focusing on responsible spending, transparency in government and jobs in the Commonwealth.
During her brief campaign, Cole has been backed by Republican Charlie Baker, who lost the race for Governor in 2010, and New Jobs for Massachusetts, a public policy advocate for new job growth in the private sector, among other local groups.
Although she lacks previous political experience, Cole said that shouldn’t be an issue on Beacon Hill.
“As long as the constituent services are there, as long as I’m just voting for the will of the people I don’t think it should be a factor,” Cole said. “There have been plenty of first-time state reps that have done phenomenal things.”
Nearly 20 percent of the total registered voters in the 12th Essex District, which comprises most of the city, voted in Tuesday’s election:
Total votes casted: 5,351
Leah Cole: 1,878 (35%)
Beverley Griffin Dunne: 1,805 (34%)
Dave Gravel: 1,655 (31%)
Officials from City Hall noted that there were eight write-ins and five ballots left blank.
In Everett, meanwhile, Democrat Wayne Matewsky won the seat by 49 votes, according to the city clerk’s office.
Matewsky, a 30-year veteran of Everett politics, will replace Stephen “Stat” Smith. Smith resigned from the House in January after pleading guilty to casting invalid absentee ballots.