By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — With the City Council losing its two most influential leaders, the race to fill the three at-large seats on the nine-member body may be the most competitive in this year’s city elections.
Half of the field of 12 candidates running in Tuesday’s preliminary election will be eliminated. The top six vote-getters will make it onto the Nov. 5 general election ballot. Roger A. Twomey, who seeks a fourth, two-year term, is the only incumbent councilor-at-large running.
The departure of City Council President Frank Moran — who is leaving after six years to spend more time being a state representative, and the council’s vice president Daniel Rivera, who is running for mayor — leaves a leadership void.
But, there may be more than enough years of collective experience among the candidates competing for the three at-large seats to make up for the lost experience.
“For the first time in many years, the city of Lawrence is going to have a tremendous amount of good choices to select from,” former City Councilor Modesto Maldonado said last week during a candidate’s forum sponsored by the Lawrence City Democratic Committee at the Lawrence Public Library.
“I think you have a great amount of challenges. But there are good people who are running for councilor-at-large. So, whatever happens (during the election), you’re a winner,” he said.
Maldonado, who was elected to the District C Arlington Neighbohood seat in 2009, decided not to seek re-election two years ago. He is one of three ex-city councilors on the ballot. The other two candidates with past council experience include:
Nilka I. Alvarez-Rodriguez spent a decade as a city councilor before running an unsuccessful campaign for mayor four years ago. She was the top vote-getter in the 2007 councilor at-large race. She served her first three terms as a councilor for District C. If elected, she would have the most experience of anyone on the council – as much as outgoing Councilors Moran and Rivera combined.
Jorge A. Gonzalez served two terms as a city councilor, representing District C before he was defeated four years ago by Maldonado. He lost a campaign to reclaim his seat in 2011. He had previously served two two-year terms on the School Committee before getting elected to the council.
Three of the other challengers for the at-large seat have previous or current School Committee experience. Mark Gray served on the Lawrence School Committee for two years after getting elected by voters in the District E Mount Vernon area in 2009. School Committee member Francisco Surillo is finishing his only term representing the District D Tower Hill area and Denise L. Perrault is currently a member of the Greater Lawrence Technical School Committee. Both were elected two years ago.
Another challenger, private investigator, Chally Ramos, has been active for several years in local politics. He failed in two bids for state representative seat and in previous campaign for city councilor two years ago.
First-time candidates include: Francisco A. Brea, a worker dislocation program coordinator for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Maria D. De La Cruz, an unemployed school teacher; local businesswoman Wendy Raquelina Luzon; and attorney Cara Martinoli.
The six district city councilor races on the ballot Tuesday night are essentially dry runs for the November general election. District C incumbent Kendrys Vasquez, District B incumbent Estela Reyes and District F incumbent Marc Laplante are on the ballot unchallenged.
Meanwhile, District A incumbent Sandy Almonte will face Rosa Pina. District D incumbent Oneida Aquino will face Marta Rentas. District E incumbent Eileen Bernal will face Kathleen Runge. With no more than two candidates for any of the six seats, Tuesday’s ballot for the district council seats will match the Nov. 5 ballot.
Up to seven incumbent city councilors — including six district councilors — could be reelected this fall, minimizing turnover on the new council that takes over in January.
But the at-large council races could determine whether the new council will work with or against the next mayor, whoever it may be. Typically, successful at-large candidates, because they run in citywide political races, often become future mayoral and state legislative candidates.