EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 19, 2013

Mischief, mishaps mark the vote in Lawrence

A slap, a computer glitch, sticker shenanigans and the devil among mayhem

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Rumbo editor Dalia Diaz could face an assault charge for slapping a defeated candidate for mayor after he accused Diaz of shilling for Mayor William Lantigua in an incident that capped a madcap day of mishaps and mischief as a city with a long history of voting irregularities went to the polls Tuesday.

The candidate, James O’Donoghue, told police after the incident that he would not press charges, but said yesterday he may change his mind because he said the slap damaged his glasses — which were knocked from his face — and left his face stinging.

“I am considering (pressing charges) because the lens on my eye glasses has a large chip and my frames got very screwed up,” O’Donoghue said. “I did have some incidents of stinging during the night where she scratched me.”

He said he also is speaking to a lawyer about the incident.

Police Lt. Shawn Conway said the investigation is continuing and no decision has been made about whether to charge Diaz.

Diaz, who publishes the city’s leading bilingual newspaper, could not be reached yesterday. But in an interview Tuesday night, she said she felt threatened by what she described as O’Donoghue’s aggressive stance as the two argued about her campaign coverage in a corner of the crowded atrium at City Hall as Lantigua prepared to claim victory before a cheering and hooting crowd of 200 supporters.

“He got very close to me,” Diaz said. “I thought he was going to slap me. He said, ‘You’re always supporting Lantigua.’ I felt threatened. He came up to me — this close — yelling in my face that I lied. When he called me a liar, I just went like that and (O’Donoghue’s glasses) flew off. The worst thing someone can do is call me a liar or to say Rumbo lied.”

The alleged lie involved a column that appears this week in Rumbo, in which Diaz calls O’Donoghue “foolish” for mocking the CVS pharmacy that opened on Broadway last year, which Lantigua often points to as a cornerstone of his redevelopment efforts. O’Donoghue has said the project brought only a few low-wage jobs to Lawrence and said more could have been done with the property.

The slap was witnessed by several bystanders, including O’Donoghue’s wife, who would not give her name.

“Dalia went too far,” she said. “She should never have touched my husband’s face.”

The slap was one of several incidents at City Hall Tuesday night that contributed to the evening’s carnival atmosphere, which was fueled by a vote count for the relatively short and simple ballot that dragged on for three hours.

City Clerk William Maloney blamed the delay on a computer failure that required clerks to tally the votes using printouts provided by the precincts. But conspiracy theorists were spinning more nefarious explanations yesterday, including one who alleged that clerks were busy wiping out votes behind the closed doors of the Election Division’s basement suite at City Hall. The count was monitored by lawyers for Secretary of State William Galvin, whose spokesman, Brian McNiff, yesterday refused to say whether they observed any irregularities.

Lantigua and City Councilor Daniel Rivera, who was the runner-up to Lantigua Tuesday and will appear with him on the ballot on Nov. 5, announced the results at their campaign headquarters shortly after the polls closed, using numbers provided by volunteers at the polls. Both men then held rallies at City Hall, but Lantigua’s nearly turned into a riot when he was challenged by a political rival who interrupted his victory speech.

As Lantigua addressed his supporters from a rail over a stairway to the basement, Rev. Edwin Rodriguez stood in the stairway and flashed thumbs down at the mayor, who responded by denouncing Rodriguez as “el diablo,” or “the devil.” Several Lantigua supporters closed in on Rodriguez and waved the mayor’s campaign signs in his face, prompting Lt. Conway to lead him away.

In another incident earlier in the day, a former city councilman handed out stickers with the name of an at-large City Council candidate Cara Martinoli, urging voters to vote for her as a sticker candidate for the District F council seat rather than for the at-large seat she was seeking.

Michael Fielding, the former councilor who handed out the stickers, said the mischief was directed at Marc Laplante, the incumbent councilor in District F, who has held the seat since defeating Fielding for it in 2009 and was otherwise unopposed Tuesday.

Laplante has since emerged as one of Lantigua’s sharpest critics on the City Council. Fielding managed Lantigua’s first run for the statehouse in 2001, but he said his mischief was of his own making and Lantigua was not involved.

“I was just (expletive deleted) with him, basically,” Fielding said about Laplante. “Nobody should run unopposed.”