LAWRENCE — When Juan “Manny” Gonzalez moved from Puerto Rico to Lawrence with his family in 1982, even though he couldn’t speak much English, he enrolled in high school, joined the basketball team and soon found a $3-per-hour job in a city factory.
Thirty years later, Gonzalez is married college graduate, the father of three-grown children and a 17-year veteran of the Lawrence Fire Department. He is also a partner in Heal Lawrence, a non-profit relief agency that helps city fire victims recover and relocate.
“I came here looking for a better life and I found one,” said Gonzalez, 46.
The Bennington Street resident is the latest to pull nomination papers for city mayor. Six others, including incumbent Mayor William Lantigua, are also interested in the mayor’s four-year term.
Gonzalez describes himself as a simple, well-intended person who loves helping people. He and his family left the small town of Maunabo, in southeastern Puerto Rico and came to Lawrence to improve both themselves and their families.
“I have absolutely benefited from coming here. It’s been a great run,” Gonzalez said.
But he believes the community needs an energized leader “that’s a boost of positive energy.”
“I believe I bring that ... I am not afraid of communicating. I want to give people a shot to get to know me,” Gonzalez said. “I really feel in my heart I can make a difference.”
A strong focus needs to be placed on public safety, education and employment. If elected, Gonzalez said that would mean he would be stepping away from firefighting, a career he loves.
“As much as I love firefighting, I feel that we, in the community, deserve better,” Gonzalez said.
He admits he’s a rookie politician but notes he’s supported other candidates and been involved in campaigns.