EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 4, 2013

Lawrence firefighter is seventh into the race for mayor

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, a city firefighter who runs a relief agency that aids local families burned out of their homes, this week became the seventh man to pick up nominating petitions for mayor.

Gonzalez did not return phone calls yesterday, but said in an earlier interview he was considering entering the race because he said the incumbent, William Lantigua, has fractured the Latino community and lost its good will since he was the first Hispanic elected to lead a Massachusetts city or town four years ago.

Lantigua is running for a second, four-year term. The race also includes several others of the city’s most prominent Latinos, including City Council Vice Chairman Daniel Rivera and state Rep. Marcos Devers, who both supported Lantigua in 2009.

Gonzalez cited Lantigua’s nighttime club-hopping, his public statements suggesting police are lazy and what he described as Lantigua’s negative  style of leadership. He noted that Lantigua recently nominated a man who ran against him four years ago to a Republican seat on the board that oversees local elections, even though the man was unqualified to hold the seat because he is enrolled as an independent.

Lantigua could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Gonzalez’s candidacy is the most complicated of all seven candidates because his city job prohibits him from personally soliciting campaign donations, although his campaign staff and volunteers can accept donations.

Lantigua does not face the same restraint because he is elected, not appointed. Lantigua reported spending about $70,000 on his first race four years ago, although state Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating findings by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance that he accepted thousands of dollars in in-kind contributions that he did not report.

Gonzalez also would have to give up his job as a firefighter, which he has held for 17 years, if he is elected, because state law does not allow individuals to collect two paychecks from the same municipality.

It’s unclear if Gonzalez would have to resign or if he would be allowed to take a leave from the Fire Department. If he took a leave, he would have to recuse himself from any city business involving the department, including negotiating a contract, because of the possibility he would return after he is no longer is mayor.

Gonzalez’s salary was $53,961 last year, but other compensation, which may have included overtime, boosted his pay to $77,038, the city payroll shows.

Lawrence mayors earn $100,000.

Gonzalez is a founder of Heal Lawrence, which grew out of another group that led a failed effort to recall Lantigua in 2011. Since then, the group has taken on different missions, including aiding victims of fires. Among other things, the group solicits furniture and other household items for the victims.

Besides Gonzalez, Lantigua, Rivera and Devers, the potential candidates for mayor include Pentecostal pastor Edwin Rodriguez, inventor James Patrick O’Donaghue and accountant Nestor DeJesus. To get on the ballot for the preliminary election, individuals must return the petitions with 250 signatures of city voters by Aug. 6.

Gonzalez lives on Bennington Street in north Lawrence. He has three children.