By Keith Eddings and Mark Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Voters who cast ballots for Mayor William Lantigua at the Arlington Middle School in North Lawrence yesterday suggested that a central message of the mayor’s campaign — he’s filled potholes on streets across Lawrence — resonated in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Arlington voters also cited Lantigua’s populist appeal. He carried District C Arlington Middle School neighborhood by a 2-1 margin.
“The Lawrence she knew from back then and the Lawrence today are totally different,” said Austria Ramos, a 33-year-old receptionist in a medical office, referring to her 70-year-old mother, Juliana Ramos. “(Lantigua’s) been working very hard. He’s fixing the streets. He’s taking care of the people of Lawrence. He’s in contact with everybody.”
“Willie!” said Rafael Paez when asked for whom he voted. “The change in the city is very good. The streets are very good. The (recently rebuilt Duck) bridge, very good. The parks, very good.”
“He’s fixing the streets,” said Tarsy Melo, who coordinates programs for victims of domestic violence for the state Division of Children and Families. “Even though it’s little stuff, he’s doing something.”
“Lantigua, because of the fact that he’s been repairing the streets,” said Carlos Santos, 22, who works on an assembly line making electronic products. “He’s been supportive of the community. My mother knows him.”
Across the river at a polling place at the South Congregational Church on South Broadway, Nara Bernard, 34, a health care administrator, also cited the recent improvements to Chester Street, where she lives. “I just like the job he’s doing,” Bernard said of Lantigua. “My street is beautiful, for one.”
Kristin Carraher, 21, a junior at UMass Lowell, said she voted for challenger Daniel Rivera because of his education and experience. “I think he could do something for Lawrence that the others can’t,” Carraher said. “We need something who’s educated, who knows what the city can do. Someone who’s been around.”
Based on being the top two vote getters yesterday, Lantigua with 5,725 votes and Rivera with 2,799 votes will face off in the November general election.
Voting got off to a slow start, but picked up considerably as the day went along. It eventually exceeded predictions of a 25 percent turnout on a crisp autumn-like day. The turnout was 32.6 percent of the city’s 36,882 registered voters.
At the Frost School in the more upscale Mount Vernon neighborhood, seven out of eight voters questioned late in the afternoon said they had cast ballots for Rivera. The eighth voter said he supported the mayor.
“He’s a veteran and he lives in my neighborhood,” said Sue Querze of Rivera.
Laura Alefantis, 35, an Andover business owner, said she voted for Rivera, who is an at-large member of the City Council.
“I like that he’s a veteran. He’s been very active in the community and that he’s been working hard to get his message out.
I think the city needs a change right now. The city isn’t cleaned up right now. It’s dirty. I feel that Dan would do a much better job,” she said.
Dave Moriarity, 56, a maintenance worker, said, “I’m just sick of Lantigua and wanted somebody other than him. I think Dan seemed like the best of other candidates. He’s a veteran and he’ll do a good job.”
Jamie Crespo, 46, a restaurant chef, said he voted for Lantigua. “He’s very good people and I like the job he’s done.”
Andrew Miller, 47, a plumber, said he voted for Rivera because “he’s got the experience of the council behind him, he knows city politics and he’s well-educated.”
Joanne Rivet, 61, retired after working more than 40 years at Verizon, said of Rivera: “He’s young, He’s got energy and he’s got a positive outlook for Lawrence, which we all need.. I think he can get the job done. In the past, he’s worked as a councilor with Lantigua and knows what it takes.”
At City Hall yesterday afternoon, Mirta Matos said she voted for local firefighter Juan Manny Gonzalez, whom she had known since she moved from Cuba in 1982. Matos and Gonzalez graduated from Lawrence High and Salem State University.
“I voted for him not only because he’s my friend, but because we need to change the image of the city of Lawrence,” Matos said. “We need to bring more companies to invest in the city, better education. He will be an asset to the city because he has lived here for more than 30 years, is a resident and knows what the city needs.”
Gonzalez came in fourth with 1,058 votes.
At the Branch Library, resident Bernardo Mercedes voted for De Jesus. He was one of the only 165 voters to do so in the city.
“He is a professional who has owned his own business for 30 years,” said Mercedes who has lived in Lawrence since 1984. “He is a smart man who has the capability of moving the city forward as we want.”
Also at the Branch Library, Cathy Perez said she supported State Rep. Marcos Devers in his challenge of Lantigua.
“We need a big change for Lawrence and he is a responsible, honest man,” said Perez. The New York native moved to Lawrence as a child.
Ramon Matta said Devers supports community organizations by attending domino tournaments and baseball games. “As an engineer, teacher and state representative, he is whom we need to make the city better,” he said.
Devers came in third in the six-way race with 1,907 votes.
Staff Writer Yadira Betances contributed to this report.