By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — City Councilor Daniel Rivera yesterday became the first to enter what will likely be a crowded field of candidates to challenge Mayor William Lantigua in the fall, alleging that the scandals, indictments and patronage of his administration have cast a “toxic” pale over City Hall and smeared the city’s reputation.
The 41-year-old two-term councilor – who will give up his seat to make the run – said the race for him will be personal as well as political.
“I grew up with my mom and my sisters, and anybody who’s been charged with domestic abuse – to me, it’s a problem to have police officers who have been doing that not be taken off the job,” Rivera said, referring to Lantigua’s recent decision to retain officer Daron Fraser after he was convicted of beating his girlfriend. “It’s a big enough issue in Lawrence that we should not have a police officer whose been convicted of it.”
About a half dozen others also are considering challenging Lantigua, including David Abdoo, who lost to Lantigua by 1,024 votes in 2009, and City Councilor Marc Laplante. State Rep. Marcos Devers has declined to say whether he also may run.
Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday. He announced he would run for a second four-year term on Dec. 28 at a vastly different venue than Rivera chose yesterday, which may help illustrate their differing styles. Lantigua announced he would run for a second four-year term at the Rio Bar and Grill on Appleton Street. Rivera announced his challenge at a meeting with Eagle-Tribune editor Alan White. He visited other media later in the day, including Univision, a Spanish cable television station.
Rivera, who is vice chairman of the City Council and chairs its budget committee, said he will need to raise $200,000 – a formidable amount in the state’s poorest city and more than what Lantigua and Abdoo spent combined four years ago. He had $14,131 in the bank on Dec. 31, about $1,500 less than Lantigua.
Rivera was first elected to the council when Lantigua was elected mayor in 2009 and was one of the mayor’s reliable supporters in their first year together at City Hall because, he said yesterday, he believed Lantigua’s 1,000-vote plurality against Abdoo gave him a mandate. By 2011, their split was wide enough that Lantigua campaigned for Rivera’s opponent in the council election that year, a race Rivera won narrowly.
“I was being fair to the guy,” Rivera said. “I don’t think then we could have known the wide-ranging mess that was going to occur.”
Rivera described Lantigua as a childish bully whose presence in the mayor’s office endangers the state and federal grants Lawrence depends on because he said no one wants to be photographed with him when they drop off checks.
“If we don’t get those grants, it will be part and parcel of the mayor’s toxicity,” Rivera said about the city’s request to renew several public safety grants that expire this year.
He offered a list of what he said is Lantigua’s failed leadership, including his call for residents to video-tape police and firefighters on the job, his regular unannounced trips to the Dominican Republic, the indictment of two of his top aides, the state takeover of city schools and what he said is Lantigua’s disregard for local neighborhood associations.
He said the tipping point for him came Sept. 11, 2011, when Lantigua pointed to his feet as he confronted a group of the 2,000 people who marched to City Hall demanding a stronger response to violence in the city. One marcher said she believed Lantigua was telling her to “kiss my feet.”
“The first time I thought this guy’s not leadership quality was when he acted the way he did at the unity rally, the egging on,” Rivera said. “There’s been no real focus on jobs and economic development. It’s basically been the Willy show and everything else is second for that.”
He said his own focus as mayor would be on jobs and development, and said he’d clean house on “middle managers on up” that he believes aren’t performing. He would not be specific about who would go beyond economic development director Patrick Blanchette. Another change would likely come at the Department of Public Works, where Rivera also has opposed Lantigua’s request to give acting director John Isensee a permanent appointment.
He said he would offer Police Chief John Romero a new contract when his present one expires. Otherwise, he said all commissioners and directors who don’t hold contacts “will be on the table for review – harsh review, by the way.”
As chairman of the budget committee, Rivera has given close scrutiny to Lantigua’s annual budget proposals and has used the perch to provide a broad oversight of most city departments, including last month when he hosted hearings about the chaos at several polling places in November’s presidential election.
He said he would seek to fire City Clerk William Maloney, who oversees the city’s Election Division. He has shown impatience with other city officials, including former Licensing Board Chairman Rick Fielding, who Rivera called an “old man” at a board meeting after Fielding resisted his demand that the board order bars and clubs to close an hour earlier on Sunday mornings.
As an at-large councilman, Rivera has the advantage of having run in two city-wide elections. He won his seat by 742 votes in 2009, coming in second in a race for three seats. He came in third in the race for three seats in 2011, when his margin tightened to 209 votes.
Rivera was born in the Bronx, N.Y. He graduated Lawrence High School in 1989, served in the invasion of Iraq, known as Desert Storm, in 1990 and 1991, and earned a bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MBA from Suffolk University in Boston.
He is a database marketing manager at Birddog Solutions, a shipping and transportation consultant based in Andover. He lives in Mount Vernon with his wife, Paula King Rivera, a marketing manager at a direct mail travel company in Boston.
Rivera said he will formally announce his candidacy at Everett Mills, 15 Union St., at 4:30 pm. tomorrow.
The preliminary election is Sept. 17. The top two vote-getters will face each other on Nov. 5.
“We’re going to be on the offense the whole time,” Rivera said about the campaign. “(Lantigua) likes to be a bully, but we’re not going to have any of that.”