By Jill Harmacinski
---- — 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.
“That’s how I got my feet wet,” he said.
Gonzalez graduated from Lawrence High School in 1986. He has an associates degree in fire science from North Shore Community College and also attended Salem State College, where he studied education. He hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree in the future.
He and his wife Gloribel have three children; Juan, 26, Jasmine, 23, who graduated from Northeastern University on Friday, and Calvin, 18, a senior at the Pingree School. Over the years, Gonzalez was involved in the Central and Tower Hill little leagues and Lawrence Legion baseball team. He also served two years on the Lawrence Auxiliary Police, attending the part-time police academy from 1990-1992, he said.
Others already in the mayor’s race, in addition to Lantigua, are City Councilor Daniel Rivera, state Rep. Marcos Devers, Rev. Edwin Rodriguez, James Patrick O’Donaghue and Nestor DeJesus.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.