While Peabody mourns the death of Joyce A. Spiliotis, speculation has quietly begun over who might run to fill the seat of the popular state representative.
Spiliotis, 65, a five-term Peabody Democrat, died Nov. 29 after a battle with cancer she chose to keep private. Many of her legislative colleagues, including House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, and city officials attended her funeral last Monday in St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
In November, Spiliotis was reelected without opposition to a sixth term representing the 12th Essex House District, which covers a large portion of Peabody.
DeLeo's spokesman, Seth Gitell, said the House will be calling a special election to fill Spiliotis's seat and that DeLeo would work with Secretary of State William Galvin to select a date.
Already, several names have been mentioned as potential contenders for the seat, which has not been open since Spiliotis first won it in 2002.
Among those mentioned are two Democrats, Peabody City Councilor at Large Thomas L. Gould, and School Committee member Beverly Ann Griffin Dunne.
Gould topped the ticket in the 2011 race for councilor at large. He and his wife, Sharon, have owned Treadwell's Ice Cream, a well-known shop on Margin Street in Peabody, since 2000.
‘Whoever takes Joyce's place will have very big shoes to fill.’
Contacted earlier this week about whether he might seek the 12th Essex seat, Gould said he would decline comment “out of respect for the Spiliotis family and the great work she has done for her constituents and people in need.”
An attorney in private practice, Dunne is in her 10th year on the School Committee.
Dunne said it was premature to discuss whether she might seek the House seat because “I'm just trying to come to grips with the fact that Joyce is gone. It came as a huge surprise to all of us. I didn't even know how sick Joyce was.”
Meanwhile, a Republican, Kosma Evangelidis, said he is giving some thought to running.
A retired investment banker, Evangelidis has a political consulting business and is a former chairman of the Peabody Republican Committee. Despite his GOP stripes, he has helped Democratic and Republican candidates over the years.
Evangelidis said he is motivated to look at the race out of desire to “bring some sanity to state government,” and in particular, the state budget.
He said whether he runs will hinge on family considerations, as well as whether he believes there would be support for his candidacy and if he is “ready to put in the commitment it's going to take.”
Sean Fitzgerald, a Democrat who mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge against Spiliotis in 2005 and lost to Ted Bettencourt in the 2011 Peabody mayor's race, said he does not plan to run for the seat.
Fitzgerald, who served as chief of staff to former Peabody mayor Michael J. Bonfanti, is currently town manager in Plaistow, N.H.
“I'm happy fulfilling my duties and responsibilities as town manager and certainly I'm hopeful that some good folks will step up and represent the interests of the city on Beacon Hill,” Fitzgerald said.
The unexpected death of Spiliotis, meanwhile, continues to be felt sorely in the city. She was the first woman to represent Peabody in the State House.
In addition to her 10 years on Beacon Hill, Spiliotis was a city councilor from 1994 to 2003 and a library trustee from 1986 to 1988. She was a Peabody native and a graduate of Peabody High School.
“Whoever takes Joyce's place will have very big shoes to fill,” said Dunne. “She did a wonderful job and did a lot of good things for Peabody and for the people of Peabody.
“She always took care of everyone that came to her. She believed in public service and really lived that,” Dunne said.
“She was the champion of the little guy,” said Ward 5 Councilor David Gamache, who served with Spiliotis on the City Council.
“She was always like that. She was always constituent driven. . . . She was just a genuine, good person. She lived to help others, that was her goal.”
Councilor at large Jim Liacos, a friend and former council colleague, said what stood out about Spiliotis was her outgoing nature and “how close she was to her people, her constituents and her friends. She was literally the fabric of Peabody. . . . She knew everyone on a personal level. That's how she wanted to run her personal life."
Fitzgerald said he came to understand those personal qualities when, as the mayor’s chief of staff, he prepared a city proclamation 10 years ago honoring her for her service to the community.
In speaking to people who knew her well, Fitzgerald said, “It became very clear to me that she was a person that valued her friends and family. It's a wonderful legacy for her to leave that she really was an exceptional friend to so many.”John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.