EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 1, 2013

Low interest favors low turnover in Lawrence races

By Mark E. Vogler

---- — LAWRENCE — Whoever wins the mayoral race in Tuesday’s election could be working with a City Council where all nine members have at least two years of experience.

The seven incumbent councilors on the Tuesday’s ballot posted substantial leads in last month’s preliminary election. Three former city councilors were among the top four candidates competing for the three councilor-at-large seats.

Unless there’s a major shift in voter preference of incumbent councilors or candidates with prior service, the council that takes office in early January will have its lowest turnover in years.

The council will definitely lose its two most influential members — President Frank Moran and Vice President Daniel Rivera. Moran is leaving after six years to spend more time being a state representative, while Rivera is challenging Mayor William Lantigua.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 5. The preliminary election drew close to 33 percent of the registered voters.

Besides the mayor and council races, voters will elect six district candidates for the Lawrence School Committee and three members to the Greater Lawrence Technical School Committee.

Both school races are marked by a shortage of candidates. In four of the School Committee races, three incumbents and one newcomer are running unopposed. Only three candidates are running for the three Lawrence seats on the vocational school board.

Lack of a voter choice is also evident in half of this year’s district council races. District C incumbent Kendrys Vasquez, District B incumbent Estela Reyes and District F incumbent Marc Laplante are on the ballot unchallenged.

Voters in the District C Arlington Neighborhood — the city’s poorest district — stands to gain the most clout on the council. Three former District C councilors are among the top front-runners for the at-large races.

Nilka I. Alvarez-Rodriguez, who served a decade on the council before stepping down to mount an unsuccessful run at mayor four years ago, served three of her five terms representing District C. A top vote-getter the last time she ran for the council in 2007, she finished just 86 votes behind Roger A. Twomey, who drew 3,758 votes in the preliminary election. Twomey, a longtime District E Mount Vernon area resident, seeks his fourth term.

Former City Councilor Modesto Maldonado, who served one term on the council after getting elected in the District C seat in 2009, received 2,679 votes to finish a distant third in last month’s preliminary race. Jorge A. Gonzalez, a former two-term incumbent who lost his seat to Maldonado, has a 242 vote difference to catch Maldonado.

Political newcomers Maria D. De La Cruz, an unemployed school teacher, and local businesswoman Wendy Raquelina Luzon, have considerably more ground to make up in their quest for the third and final councilor-at-large seat. They finished with 1,902 and 1,612 votes respectively in the preliminary election.

The incumbents enjoy huge leads in two of the three contested district council races. District E incumbent Eileen O’Connor Bernal won her preliminary election race by 1,117 votes over Kathleen Runge. That was a 76 percent margin of victory.

Councilor Oneida Aquino got 512 more votes than Marta Rentas in their District D Tower Hill contest to win by 68 percent. Meanwhile, District A incumbent Sandy Almonte, a self-described full-time councilor who is seeking a third term, held a 172-vote edge over challenger Rosa Pina after the preliminary election.

Only two of the six races for the six Lawrence School Committee district seats matter in this year’s election. The only competition will be In District D — where newcomers Angel Garcia will face Jeovanny Rodriguez — and in District E, where Homayoun Maali will challenge incumbent Patricia Mariano.

Incumbent candidates Pavel M. Payano (District C), Milquicided Santos (District B) and James R. Blatchford (District F) are all running uncontested. Myra Ortiz , who won a spot on the ballot for the District A seat as a write-in candidate in the preliminary election, also has no competition.

City officials say interest in the School Committee races has decreased dramatically since the state took control of Lawrence Public Schools in late 2011, leaving the committee members without governance powers.

Incumbent members Leo Lamontagne and Abel Vargas and candidate Gary Manion are the only candidates on the ballot for the three Lawrence seats on the Greater Lawrence Technical School Committee.