LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua conceded to Daniel Rivera last night in a 16-minute radio address delivered in Spanish in which he suggested racist media were responsible for his loss and cast new doubt on the validity of an election he lost by just 83 votes.
“If my name were John Sullivan and I looked like some of you, my face would be on the cover of Money Magazine or Forbes because of what I’ve done” to reverse the city’s financial fortunes,” Lantigua said after the broadcast. He was speaking to a dozen or so reporters from English-language media whom his aides initially tried to block from a studio of La Mega AM 1400 radio a few blocks from City Hall.
Lantigua said he conceded to Rivera in a phone call before the broadcast and said he would meet with the mayor-elect today to consult on the transition. He did not say when or where the meeting would be or what issues they would discuss.
Rivera, who earlier in the day said a scheduling conflict would not allow him to listen to Lantigua’s radio address, said the outgoing mayor was gracious through the phone call.
“He has a term he uses,” Rivera said. “He calls people ‘manito,’ which is brother. I took it to be a heartfelt sentiment. I’m hoping there will be a smooth transition because of that.”
Lantigua’s concession ends his three-week struggle to reverse Rivera’s small margin among the 15,175 votes cast on Nov. 5. Rivera had a 60-vote edge on election night, but the margin fluctuated as provisional and absentee ballots were added to the mix. His lead settled at 83 votes during Saturday’s recount, equal to less than half a percentage point.
Lantigua said immediately after the day-long recount that he might sue to try to overturn the result in state Superior Court, where he said he would pin his hopes on about 100 so-called spoiled ballots that were not counted because they contained conflicting or inappropriate marks, such as votes for both Lantigua and Rivera.
Even as he conceded yesterday, he insisted that the spoiled ballots were for him and should have been counted.
“I don’t want to sound like a sore loser,” Lantigua said.
But he said there were 98 ballots, most of which were marked for him, “and they were not counted.”
Earlier requests by The Eagle-Tribune to view some of the ballots cast in the election were rejected by lawyers for the city, who said they are not public.
Lantigua said he gave up on an appeal and decided to concede after weighing the odds with his lawyer, Sal Tabit, and considering the cost of a court fight and consulting with his family.
“Buenas noches, buenas tardes, familia,” Lantigua said as he sat before a microphone and took to the air at 6 p.m., a half hour later than scheduled, surrounded by family, friends and City Hall aides.
The crowd that packed around him included his wife, Lorenza Ortega, a City Hall secretary, who stood just over his shoulder; Ana Medina, a member of the city’s Board of Registrars, which voted 3-0 to certify the recount results and declare Rivera the winner on Saturday; and parking attendant Justo Garcia, his campaign photographer who was indicted in September for allegedly skimming thousands of dollars from collections at the Museum Square garage and doing campaign work for Lantigua while on city time.
Lantigua kept his listeners hanging. He spoke from prepared remarks for nearly 10 minutes, detailing the accomplishments of his administration before announcing his concession. He noted that all four of his budgets had multimillion-dollar surpluses, even after he inherited what he said was $30 million in operating deficits in earlier budgets from his predecessor, which he called a “fiscal fiasco.”
The deficits were wiped out by long-term borrowing, so much of it will be handed off to Rivera, along with the $3 million debt Lantigua borrowed to balance his first budget.
Lantigua also noted that the city’s credit rating was upgraded under his leadership and that he settled contracts with the police and firefighters unions. He acknowledged some of what beset his government, including what he conceded was poor communication with city unions during his first year, when he suggested firefighters were setting fires and police officers were lazy.
“It’s been a very rough four years,” Lantigua said in a makeshift English-language press conference in a hallway outside the studio after the Spanish-language broadcast, in which his tone swung between conciliatory and combative. “Those who are not blind of conscience will have to conclude that we have a much better city than when we came to office. We have a much cleaner, safer city.”
Lantigua, 58, a state representative for several terms before he was elected mayor, waved off questions about whether he would seek elective office again.
“I just want to lay back for a couple of days,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go to Tenares for a couple of weeks.”
Tenares is a city of 30,000 in a north-central part of the Dominican Republic that Lantigua visited frequently over the last four years, trips that were almost never announced in Lawrence. Lantigua was born in the island nation and was revered there after he became the first Dominican mayor elected to govern a U.S. city in 2009. He played a hand in that nation’s recent presidential election and was given a key to Tenares in 2011. He remains a Dominican citizen.
“The people of Lawrence will pave the road for whatever they want me to do,” Lantigua said. “I’ll answer that call when it comes.
“I still have the love of the people,” he added. “That’s what counts a lot to me.”