By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Residents expressed good will and high hopes for Mayor-elect Daniel Rivera yesterday, a day after Mayor William Lantigua conceded defeat in a broadcast on Spanish-language radio and promised to work with Rivera to make the transition at City Hall a smooth one.
Students, workers and retirees along Essex Street just behind City Hall also expressed some fatigue about Lantigua, who balanced four budgets and paved miles of streets but also lost control of the public schools to the state and was mired in scandal and dogged by the indictments of top aides.
Some said they expected the change on the way would be both in style and substance. But they indicated that one thing may stay the same: Many referred to Rivera as “Danny,” suggesting that a city that has been on a first-name basis with its mayor for four years — Lantigua was “Willie” — expects the tradition to continue.
“(I like) the way he spoke, standing up to Lantigua,” said Fernando Landor, 60, a retired parking attendant. “He wasn’t intimidated. He’s promised those employees who are indicted that their salaries are going to be taken away. The citizens of Lawrence voted for (Rivera) because they have faith in him.”
Lantigua suspended several indicted employees, including Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, but continued paying their salaries while they remained at home. Rivera promised to stop the paychecks of employees who are indicted until the charges against them are resolved.
Rivera defeated Lantigua by an unofficial margin of 60 votes on Nov. 5, a margin that expanded to 83 during Saturday’s recount, which made the result official. After conceding Monday, Lantigua said he would meet with Rivera privately yesterday to begin the transition. Neither man could be reached to confirm the meeting had occurred.
The two have not met alone and rarely spoke in at least two years because of the divide that opened between them as Rivera, a two-term city councilor, became increasingly critical of Lantigua’s leadership.
Lantigua also shut down communication with the city’s Anglo communities, refusing to speak to reporters from English-speaking news organizations, often speaking only Spanish at public events with mixed audiences and skipping neighborhood association meetings in the mostly Anglo communities of South Lawrence.
Rivera was critical of the practice and promised to bridge the racial divide he said Lantigua created. On Monday, an hour after Lantigua’s concession on La Mega AM 1440 AM radio station, he changed the cover photo atop his Facebook page to one showing the bridges connecting North and South Lawrence over the Merrimack River, offering a graphic reinforcement of a promise he repeated often in his 10-month campaign to unite the city’s mostly Latino north side with its mostly Anglo south side.
The message rang with residents.
“I think he’ll do well,” said Sarah Alveraz, 63, a volunteer at a local social service agency, said about the mayor-elect. “I know the Anglos are behind him. Also the Spanish people.”
“Danny so far — he’s a really positive role model,” said Rayza Carrasco, and 18-year-old senior at Notre Dame High School. “I like that someone who’s involved in the community, is involved in our community, is our new mayor.”
Across Essex Street at the JRT Factory Outlet, also known as Rafa’s Store, counter clerk Miguel Antigua, 49, said Lantigua’s support still runs deep in Dominican Republic, where Lantigua was born and returns often. He said Lantigua’s election four years ago was viewed back home as “a grand opportunity for the Spanish community” in the United States.
“I never heard about his troubles — just here, when I came,” said Antigua, who returned to Lawrence last month after a few years in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. “(Rivera) is a nice guy. He’s another Spanish guy with another Spanish opportunity.”
Alice Matos, 18, a waitress at El Taller, a downtown cafe where Rivera held his victory party on Nov. 5, said she’s glad the new mayor was born in the United States. Rivera was born in The Bronx, N.Y., but moved to Lawrence as a 5-year-old and went to Lawrence public schools.
“For the first time, I think someone understands what the city needs,” Matos said. “He’s from here, so it’s not a guess for him. He’s sincere. He’s educated. He connects with the kids, not just adults.”
Rivera will be inaugurated Jan. 2.