EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 18, 2013

A raucous night at City Hall as mayor leads five challengers with 48 percent

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE – Mayor William Lantigua piled up nearly 48 percent of the vote against five challengers in yesterday’s preliminary election, outpacing runner-up Daniel Rivera by a margin of better than 2-1 in a race that drew a heavy turnout, was monitored by the state and ended with several raucous outbursts at City Hall, including one that turned violent and another that nearly did.

Lantigua and Rivera, who is vice president of the City Council and won 23 percent of the vote, will face each other in the general election on Nov. 5.

State Rep. Marcos Devers, who was making his third run for mayor, came in a distant third with about 16 percent of the vote. Firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, who was making his first run for elective office, received just under 9 percent. Nester De Jesus and James O’Donoghue accumulated only a few hundred votes between them.

The victory was a formidable one for a mayor who has led an administration dogged by scandals, indictments and two unsuccessful recall attempts. He finished first in 21 of the city’s 24 precincts and second to Rivera in three South Lawrence districts.

But it was a victory with an underside. Four of the challengers have said they would endorse whoever made it onto the ballot with Lantigua in November, suggesting that Lantigua needed to come close to 50 percent yesterday to claim he could win even if all five of the others coalesce against him and are able to deliver all their voters.

The anti-Lantigua coalition of candidates showed signs of fracturing as Lantigua piled up his numbers last night. Gonzalez and O’Donoghue endorsed Rivera after the polls closed, but Devers said his earlier pledge was informal and said he is reassessing it.

Lantigua seemed more than satisfied by his margin as he spoke to a jubilant, overflow crowd of about 200 supporters that spilled out of his campaign headquarters and onto Essex Street, where his speech was piped to the outside onto a loudspeaker that echoed his voice down through downtown. Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, who managed Lantigua’s 2009 campaign and has since been indicted on corruption charges, stood close to Lantigua’s side for much of the evening.

Speaking in Spanish for about half an hour, Lantigua hinted at the allegations of corruption and irregularities that have been lodged against his administration and his campaign organization, asserting that his campaign took no special interest money and that most of his contributors gave small amounts.

March to City Hall

He ended his speech by stepping into the crowd of backslapping, hooting supporters, leading them out the door for a one-block march to City Hall where he delivered a second address in the building’s atrium that was interrupted by a reverend who led one of the failed recalls.

Climbing up the open stairway from the basement where he was waiting for official results from the Election Division, Rev. Edwin Rodriguez looked up at Lantigua from a platform midway up the stairs and gave him a thumbs down. Lantigua responded by leaning over the rail and, grinning broadly, denouncing the reverend as “el diablo,” or “the devil” as the crowd whooped its approval in a deafening roar that ricocheted through the four-story atrium.

Several Lantigua supporters surrounded Rodriguez and began pressing in until police Lt. Shawn Conway got between them and led Rodriguez away by the arm.

“This is your City Hall,” Lantigua told the crowd, again in Spanish. “This is the City Hall of the community.”

Leaning over the rail again, Lantigua flashed four fingers and led his supporters a chant of “cuatro anos mas,” or “four more years.”

Rodriguez made it away from the confrontation unharmed. But O’Donoghue, the fifth runner up in the preliminary, had the glasses slapped from his face by Dalia Diaz, the editor of a Spanish-language newspaper in another incident in the City Hall atrium.

“He called me a liar,” Diaz said about a disagreement she had with O’Donoghue over a column that appears this week in her paper, Rumbo, in which she calls O’Donoghue “foolish” for mocking the CVS pharmacy that opened on Broadway last year that Lantigua often points to as a sign of the city’s recovery.

“He got very close to me,” Diaz said. “I thought he was going to smack me. He said, ‘You’re always supporting Lantigua.’”

The slap followed, sending O’Donoghue’s eyeglasses flying and bringing on another intercession by Lt. Conway.

Rivera wants to debate Lantigua

Earlier in the evening, Rivera led a smaller group of supporters from a march at El Taller restaurant on Essex Street into City Hall. He said he also was encouraged by the vote.

“More than half of the people who went out to vote today wanted a new mayor — that’s just a fact,” Rivera said. “We’re going to take it to the mayor starting tomorrow. We’re going to knock on every door and we’re going to put his administration on trial.”

“We need more police officers, we need jobs in this community and we need to fix the school system,” Rivera said. “When you look at what this mayor has done, he’s done great at fixing the streets so maybe he should be DPW director. But let me tell you something: he’s definitely failed at creating jobs and at making us safer and at fixing the schools.”

Rivera said he would challenge Lantigua to debate, which would be a first for a mayor who refused any debates in his first campaign for mayor four years ago, saying challenger David Abdoo had “not earned it.” He refused to debate his five challengers in this year’s preliminary election.

Rivera would not say what he would spend in the seven weeks of the general election, but he and Lantigua start the campaign on nearly equal financial footing. Rivera had $27,157 in the bank after spending $23,570 in the preliminary election, the financial disclosure form he filed last week shows.

Lantigua had $20,771 in the bank after spending $33,777, his disclosure form shows.

Whoever wins, Lantigua and Rivera will make history for running the first campaign in Massachusetts in which the only two candidates are Latino. That fact also promises to drive some of the dynamics of the race in a city with a dwindling white population and a growing number of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, who now make up about 73 percent of the city’s residents.

Lantigua was born in the Dominican Republic in 1955. Rivera, 42, was born in the Bronx, N.Y., to a Dominican mother. He never met his father, who is Puerto Rican.

Paul Lazour, a lawyer on Secretary of State William Galvin’s staff, visited several polling places yesterday after Galvin received a petition requesting he dispatch aides to oversee the vote. Lazour or another Galvin aide also monitored the vote count in the Election Division in the basement at City Hall yesterday, which dragged on for three hours despite the relatively short ballot, reportedly because of computer failures.

Galvin could not be reached yesterday, but Lt. Conway said there were no significant incidents at the polls.