LAWRENCE - Mayor William Lantigua was not on the ballot yesterday, but he was on a lot of minds as voters cast ballots in preliminary contests that gave at least a psychological lift to both his opponents and supporters.
Lantigua inserted himself deeply into many of the City Council and School Committee races, giving radio interviews, distributing palm cards, and directing a get-out-the-vote campaign. The results suggest he still has sizable political sway in the city even after the summer's failed effort to recall him and as a federal grand jury in Boston considers charges against him.
He began the day by offering a list of his favored candidates in a morning interview on Spanish-language radio, then headed to the street outside the South Lawrence East schools to command a voter turnout effort for a write-in candidate to oppose Councilor Marc Laplante in District F.
The hours-long effort, coordinated from the flatbed of Lantigua's Chevrolet Avalanche, produced 120 write-in votes for Randy Jaime, 70 more than needed to put him on the November ballot. Lantigua recruited Jaime, the brother of Lantigua's City Hall receptionist, Jorge Jaime, to run as a sticker candidate.
Lantigua and Jorge Jaime declined to comment yesterday.
"He's in his element," Laplante said from the other side of Osgood Street as he watched Lantigua, Jorge Jaime and several others work their cell phones. "What he doesn't do in governing, he does pretty well in campaigning."
Other Lantigua favorites also did well yesterday, including City Council President Frank Moran, who topped the six candidates running for three at-large seats on the council, and Kendrys Vasquez, a 24-year-old social worker who came in first in a race against two former City Council members seeking to replace retiring Council Modesto Maldonado in District C.
Several Lantigua critics were buried at the polls yesterday, including Rev. Edwin Rodriguez, who led the failed effort to recall Lantigua. Rodriguez came in fifth in the at-large Council contest, just ahead of Chally Ramos, another Lantigua critic, who came in sixth. Regardless of how they finished, all six at-large candidates will be on the ballot in November.
Grisel Silva, one of Lantigua's loudest critics on the City Council, also struggled. She received 46 percent of the vote against Lantigua favorite Estela Reyes, a newcomer, in District B.
"Mr. Mayor was out there on the radio telling people that Mr. Laplante and myself and (School Committee member) Martina Cruz are the enemy of the people for signing the recall petition," Silva said after the votes were counted. "I'm ready for the challenge that's coming my way. I'm going to be out there full force."
Silva, like all runner-ups in the district contests yesterday, will go on to the November ballot to ensure there is a contest in every district.
City Councilor Sandy Almonte, also endorsed by Lantigua, was the top vote getter among three candidates in District A, but only by 23 votes of 357 cast. The runner-up was Merrill Perkins Jr., the husband of a former City Hall employee who filed a claim for disability benefits last year because of the hostile work environment she alleged Lantigua and his allies created.
The day was not a sweep for Lantigua.
The most bitter result of all for the mayor may have come in Council District D, where retiring School Committee member Sammy Reyes topped a field of three candidates that included City Councilor Oneida Aquino, a Lantigua favorite. Reyes, an employee of the U.S. Postal Service who has become Lantigua's sharpest critic on the School Committee, won 40 percent; Aquino, who owns the D'Cache and MVP nightclubs on Broadway, won 37 percent.
Cruz, the School Committee member opposed by the mayor, received 64 percent of the vote against Milquicided Santos in District B. She said Lantigua's effort on his radio interview yesterday to rally voters against candidates who supported his recall was a diversion from the issues.
"He's not thinking about the people, he's not thinking about education," Cruz said. "He's thinking about himself. So it's personal."