LAWRENCE — Before William Lantigua, there was Marcos Devers.
While Lantigua is the first elected Latino mayor of Lawrence, Devers was the first Latino to occupy the office — serving as interim mayor from September to November 2001.
Devers, 59, was chosen by the City Council, not the citizenry. But now he is asking residents to pick him to succeed Lantigua in the state House of Representatives.
Lantigua, who was elected mayor on Nov. 3, resigned his seat as state representative Friday amid mounting pressure to quit one of his two jobs. He had served in the Legislature since 2003 and held that job and the job of mayor simultaneously for 40 days.
Lantigua sparked an ovation when he endorsed Devers at City Hall on Friday evening.
"I want to serve the city and serve the district and be part of changes we need to bring to Lawrence," Devers said during an interview yesterday.
The district — the Sixteenth Essex — covers the city's north side. So far, Devers is the only candidate to announce a bid.
However, Planning Board Chairwoman Lesly Melendez said she is "looking at it very closely."
"I have to, obviously, have a discussion with my family, but it is a definite consideration on my part," she said.
Born and raised in Lawrence, the 37-year-old is a facilities coordinator for Comcast. She helped run former City Councilor David Abdoo's mayoral campaign last fall.
Melendez's uncle used to be married to Isabel Melendez, a longtime Lantigua supporter who is a program director of the Community Service Center of Greater Lawrence Community Action Council.
Lesly Melendez has never held elected office, and she is not a member of a political party, she said.
Like Lantigua, Devers is a Democrat. Dian Kneeland, chairwoman of the Lawrence Democratic City Committee, said she hasn't yet heard of anyone else who will run. She called Devers an "excellent" choice.
"I think he will do 10 times better than Willie Lantigua did. I highly recommend him," she said. "I think he has much more experience going in than Willie had when he went into the job. He has an excellent grasp on the whole city of Lawrence as one."
Republican City Committee Chairman David Camasso said he hadn't yet heard of anyone from his side of the political aisle who plans to run.
Devers, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a civil engineer and owner of MDJ Engineering & Construction. He taught at Lawrence High and Greater Lawrence Technical schools and worked for the Department of Industrial Accidents as a regional manager in Lawrence. He is a former three-term city councilor.
House speaker Robert DeLeo will decide whether to call for a special election to fill Lantigua's seat, said spokesman Seth Gitell. The other option would be to just wait until the regularly scheduled state election this fall.
Devers and Lantigua were rivals until recently. Devers had challenged Lantigua for the House, and they both ran for mayor last fall, with Lantigua ultimately prevailing out of a field of 10 candidates. Devers stood next to Lantigua on Friday night when the mayor announced that he's stepping down from the House.
"I know that we might have different styles and we might not be in agreement on some issues, but we found a point of convergence and it worked out," Devers said yesterday. "In the past, we were friends, then we were not friends. Now we're friends and I think that's the way it will stay."
The two rekindled their friendship after the preliminary election last September, when the field of mayoral hopefuls was down to Lantigua and Abdoo.
"We had something in common," Devers said. "We were looking for a different system for the city of Lawrence and we had the same state of things for many years and we needed to bring substantial changes to the city, and that's where we came together."
Devers said their relationship had soured around 2005 because of "political issues."
"Decisions we made in those days, past elections, we went in different directions," he said. "I'm glad that everything is in the past."
Finding work for Lawrencians is at the top of Devers' platform.
"We need to be very creative and work with corporations within and out of the city of Lawrence and bring investors," he said.
The city, if it can afford to, should provide incentives for people like restaurateur and developer Sal Lupoli to "bring success and employment" to the city, Devers said.
"Eighteen percent unemployment is a shame," he said, referring to Lawrence's unemployment rate, which is almost double the statewide percentage.