LAWRENCE — Last Tuesday wasn’t the first time that ballots in a hotly contested mayoral race were locked away in a sealed vault in the basement of City Hall and kept under 24-hour guard by Lawrence police for safe-keeping in case of a recount or court challenge.
It happened 20 years ago, after Mary Claire Kennedy beat former Lawrence Mayor Lawrence LeFebre by just 11 votes in what may have been the city’s closest mayor’s race ever.
Then-Interim Mayor Leonard J. Degnan Jr. took no chances that somebody might tamper with the ballots. He ordered the vault sealed with wax and instructed the city clerk to surrender his key to the vault’s inner door to the Election Division office. Degnan tried to have state police take custody of the ballots because both local police unions had endorsed LeFebre. But he said at the time election officials told him state police couldn’t be used to protect ballots in a municipal election.
The recount didn’t make any difference in the election outcome. Kennedy still became the city’s first female mayor, picking up four more votes from the recount. A lawsuit by LeFebre didn’t change that margin.
Mayor William Lantigua has until Friday to decide whether to seek a recount of last week’s 60-vote loss to City Councilor and Mayor-elect Daniel Rivera. Lantigua narrowed Rivera’s lead down to 57 votes during last Friday’s count of provisional ballots. There are still absentee ballots from overseas to count.
While many political observers are expecting Lantigua to request a recount — especially if he can cut into Rivera’s lead substantially —history isn’t on the mayor’s side, according to Ronald F. Martin, a long-time city official and observer of Lawrence politics.
”Not in my life-time,” Martin answered when asked whether he’s known of any recounts which have succeeded during more than five decades of following city government.