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September 8, 2013

Rivera wages a ground war to unseat a 'divisive' mayor

LAWRENCE — On a warm late-summer evening in a middle-class, south-side neighborhood, Daniel Rivera is waging what he calls his ground war.

Working from a map highlighted with the streets he’ll walk and a database showing the names and voting history of every adult in every home along the way, Rivera heads up a driveway on Mount Auburn Street.

A middle-aged woman responds to his knock at the door, looking a little startled and not very interested.

“I’m Dan Rivera and I’m running for mayor,” Rivera says. “Have you thought about the race yet?”

“Not really.”

Undaunted, Rivera launches into a monologue he’ll repeat several times over the next few hours: he’ll bring industry and jobs to the city, hire dozens more cops, fix the schools and repair the city’s battered reputation.

The woman, who asks to be identified only as Kathy, starts to warm up.

“You work very hard,” she tells Rivera. “I see you everywhere.”

The candidate beams. He reminds her that the election is Sept. 17 and turns back down the driveway headed for the next one.

The voter he’s looking for next door isn’t home. He leaves a brochure with her son and makes a request.

“Let her know a chubby guy running for mayor came by,” Rivera — 5 feet nine inches tall and 290 pounds — calls over his shoulder as he turns for the next house.

It’s a political strategy rooted in one-on-one contact and supported by a disciplined campaign organization that Rivera says will help him unseat a charismatic incumbent whose campaign is equally disciplined.

In all, Rivera said he and his volunteers have visited 3,000 homes since he became the first of five challengers to enter the race on Feb. 4 with a promise to remove the “toxic” pale he said has settled over the city over the last four years, brought on by the indictments, scandals and patronage that he says have marked Mayor William Lantigua’s four years.

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