Special election races underway for two state House seats

Just over a month since the start of the new legislative session, open races for state representative seats are in full swing in two area districts.

Four candidates are running in a special election to fill the 12th Essex seat formerly held by Joyce A. Spiliotis. Reelected to a sixth term Nov. 6, the Peabody Democrat died Nov. 29 after a battle with cancer.

There are seven contenders in a special election to fill the 28th Middlesex seat formerly held by Stephen “Stat” Smith. The Everett Democrat, who won a fourth term in November, resigned Jan. 1  as part of an agreement to plead guilty in federal court to misdemeanor voter fraud charges.


Both special elections are set for April 2, with primaries on March 5. The 12th Essex is composed of most of Peabody, and the 28th Middlesex the city of Everett.  

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The 12th Essex field includes Peabody School Committee member Beverly A. Griffin Dunne, a Democrat; Republicans Gregory S. Bunn and Leah Cole and City Councilor Dave Gravel, an independent. Bunn and Cole, both first-time candidates, will compete in a GOP primary.

A lawyer in private practice, Dunne is in her 10th year on the School Committee.

“The cornerstone of my candidacy will be constituent services. I will put people first,” she said. “I’ve devoted my entire life to helping other people, and serving as state representative will allow me to continue that work.”

Gravel is in his third term as a councilor at large after two terms on the School Committee. The founder and chief executive of a technology consulting firm, he has been active with community organizations.


“I think I would be a strong voice for the people of Peabody and bring a significant amount of experience to the position,” Gravel said.

Bunn has worked since 2004 for the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development as part of the management team for the North Shore Career Centers

“I’m the only candidate who has experience in both job development and job placement,” he said. “My primary focus is on job creation, creating a better business environment, removing red tape from businesses so they can grow.”

A licensed practical nurse, Cole, 24, said, “I think it’s very important for people my age to get involved in this because our future is being decided for us. . . . I don’t plan to be a career politician. I’m generally running because I care about what is happening in Peabody and what is happening at the State House, which affects us all.”

The 28th Middlesex race in Everett features five Democrats and two independents.


The Democratic hopefuls are former mayor John Hanlon; aldermen Michael Mangan and Joseph W. McGonagle; and common councilors Sergio Cornelio and Wayne A. Matewsky.

The Democratic primary winner will contend in the final with the two independent candidates, Common Councilor Rosa DiFlorio and former School Committee member Dennis John Gianatassio.

Hanlon served two terms as mayor, from 2004-2008, and previously as an alderman for 22 years, and the city clerk for 18 years. He lost a primary challenge to Smith in 2010.  

Calling himself an “Everett person for Everett people,” Hanlon said, “I have the knowledge not only of the city but of the state. I’ve been around long enough to know exactly how the budget process works.”

Mangan is in his second term as Ward 2 alderman after a term as Ward 1 common councilor. A train operator for the MBTA Red Line and a member of the Boston Carmen’s Union, he has served as the labor representative on the Housing Authority.

“The reason I’m running is I love the city of Everett. I’ve always put Everett first as an elected official or a volunteer,” he said. “As the next state representative, I want to continue making a positive difference in the community.”

A third-term Ward 1 common councilor, Cornelio is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business while helping manage his family’s restaurant.

“I’ll bring youth and energy and a different perspective,” said Cornelio, 27.  “It’s time for a younger generation to start moving in and doing some good for their community and their state.”

Matewsky has been a Ward 1 common councilor for all but four years since 1981 and has served a term as alderman at large.

He lost to Smith in the 2008 primary, but went on to work for him as a legislative aide, a position he still holds. A member of the bricklayers union, he holds the labor seat on the Housing Authority.

He said if he is elected, “Senior citizens will have the best state representative Everett can deliver. The working families of Everett will have a great union supporter at the State House.”

McGonagle, who owns a construction business, is in his second term as an alderman at large after serving terms as Ward 6 alderman and Ward 1 common councilor.

He lost a bid for mayor in 2007.  

“If I’m lucky enough to be elected, constituent services will be the focus of who I am,” he said. “My office will be open seven days a week.”

A four-term Ward 5 Common Councilor, DiFlorio co-owns a ceramic tile business.

“I am running for the right reasons,” she said. “I’m not affiliated with anybody. I’m there to make the right decisions for the people of Everett.”

Gianatassio, a self employed handyman/painter, was a School Committee member for two terms, from 1994 to 1998, serving as president one of those years. He lost a bid for the House seat in 2010.

“I’m a devout Catholic Christian,” he said. “I’m deeply concerned about the moral issues of our day. I am 100 percent pro life, pro the sanctity of marriage, and pro economic justice.”

John Laidler can be reached at