By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor Daniel Rivera took the oath of office in a private ceremony at City Hall just after 7 p.m. yesterday, taking over from a mayor who has not been seen in City Hall since just after he lost a recount several weeks ago and who was not heard from even as the winter storm barreled into the city yesterday, officials said.
Former Mayor William Lantigua’s absence helped hasten Rivera’s transition into office, which began in earnest two days ago when Rivera met with the city’s fire, police and public works chiefs and school officials to begin planning for the snow that arrived in the city in Lantigua’s last hours in office and continued into Rivera’s first.
Rivera issued no public comment after his official swearing in last night, which will be followed by another oath delivered by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren at an inaugural ceremony at the North Common Education Complex at 9 a.m. Saturday. But as his first emergency swirled in white around him, the new mayor issued a blizzard of pink slips and demotions to city employees hired by the former one.
Most significantly, he demoted Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla back to sergeant and suspended his pay until the extortion, embezzlement and fraud charges pending against him are resolved. Lantigua promoted Bonilla to the deputy’s post just after taking office and put him on paid leave after he was indicted in September 2010. Bonilla managed Lantigua’s 2009 campaign for mayor and was regularly at his side during Lantigua’s re-election campaign last year.
Rivera also fired Justo Garcia, a parking attendant who Lantigua put on paid leave after his indictment for skimming proceeds from a garage and for working on Lantigua’s campaign while on city time; and Richard Berke, who helped manage city real estate and had worked for Lantigua since his days as a state representative.
Rivera has said that several others will be fired over the next few days, including Lorenza Ortega, Lantigua’s wife and a confidential secretary in the Personnel Department; Gilda Doran, a neighborhood planner; and Andrys Castillo, who Lantigua recently promoted from recycling coordinator to carpenter at the Department of Public Works.
Economic Development Director Patrick Blanchette, Chief of Staff Frederick Diaz and several other members of Lantigua’s staff also departed yesterday but did not have to be fired because they served terms contiguous with Lantigua’s. On Lantigua’s staff, only confidential secretary Maria Cruz survived the transition; she was moved to the Personnel Department, where she will replace Ortega.
Other shake-ups are expected at the Department of Public Works, where Rivera has said he will review the performance of Street Foreman Joel Chalas and Parks Foreman Jorge Jaime, who brought few technical qualifications to their jobs beyond serving as Lantigua’s top political lieutenants. As many as five DPW laborers Lantigua recently hired also may not survive the transition.
Rivera has announced no major appointments beyond his chief of staff, Lisa Torrisi, in the five weeks since the recount, although a few are expected shortly. Among them, he said he will restore Alexcy Vega as city assessor. Lantigua demoted Vega four years ago and replaced him with Breda Daou, who will now swap jobs with Vega.
Rivera was sworn into office at City Hall by an assistant city clerk, while City Clerk William Maloney was at Lawrence High School swearing in the new City Council, which elected Modesto Maldonado to replace Frank Moran as council president. Moran, a state representative, held both the city and state jobs for a year did not run for re-election to the council.
Rivera was accompanied at his swearing in by his wife, Paula; Chief of Staff Torrisi and her brother, former state Rep. David Torrisi, who was on the legal team that advised Rivera through the recount; and several staff from his campaign.
Acting Public Works Director John Isensee said he consulted with Rivera by phone throughout the day yesterday, as the snow mounted past a foot. He said he has not spoken to Lantigua in at least 10 days.
Lantigua could not be reached yesterday.
Isensee also said he would be coordinating the 80 plows and other pieces of snow removal equipment and the 100 contractors and city employees into the morning.
“This is the mayor’s first storm,” Isensee said. “You think I’m leaving that to chance?”