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November 7, 2013

Council rejects Lantigua's nominees to election board

LAWRENCE — The City Council this week turned back Mayor Lantigua’s 11th-hour effort to fill two seats on the board that could decide the outcome of the election Lantigua lost by a hair Tuesday, including one nominee who is the brother-in-law of the mayor’s former campaign manager.

“Putting hand-picked supporters to determine the fate of a likely recount is nothing short of protecting his own interests,” Councilor Mark Laplante said yesterday. “Let the new council and Mayor-elect Rivera decide in the new year.”

The council’s voted 5-2 late Tuesday to reject Francisco Surillo, whose wife is the sister of Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, for a seat on the Board of Registrars. Bonilla managed Lantigua’s 2009 campaign.

The board decides election disputes, including whether contested ballots should be counted. It also oversees recounts.

Surillo, a case manager for the Lowell Housing Authority, gave up his seat on the School Committee this year to make an unsuccessful run for City Council, when he was backed by Lantigua.

By the same 5-2 vote, the council also rejected Victor DeJesus, Lantigua’s second nominee to the Board of Registrars.

The councilors rejected Surillo and DeJesus without considering their qualifications, but because of the timing of the nominations and what they said were unanswered questions about their technical qualifications, including their party enrollments.

Surillo and DeJesus are unenrolled voters, which Republican City Councilor Roger Twomey said could leave the board’s existing Democratic majority undisturbed.

The councilors also questioned which seats the two would fill on the board. The four-member board already has three sitting members, so the two nominees could have put five people in the four seats.

Board member Ana Medina was given an emergency appointment by Lantigua two years ago and has never been approved by the council, so one of the new nominees would likely have gotten her seat. The other would have filled a seat that is now empty.

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