LAWRENCE — City Councilor Daniel Rivera yesterday took on what may be the biggest challenge of his campaign for mayor: Getting the incumbent to debate.
The effort seemed to stumble out of the gate, as Rivera and Mayor William Lantigua made an effort to avoid each other when their paths crossed at the Relief’s In last night, suggesting there may be too much bad feeling between the two men to get them to share a stage anytime soon.
Lantigua dodged into a bathroom off the front lobby at the firefighters union hall to avoid Rivera as he approached. Rivera, who has become one of Lantigua’s sharpest critics on the council, hustled through the lobby, waiving off a request to wait for the mayor so that the two might pose together for a photo.
The two were at the hall seeking the endorsement of the city’s firefighters union, which had not voted by 10 p.m.
Asked while he waited to meet with the membership whether he would debate Rivera, the mayor only grinned.
Lantigua has won three straight elections — two preliminaries and a general — without appearing at a single debate, including at least two he skipped in last month’s preliminary election, when he topped a field of six with 48 percent of the vote. Rivera took 23 percent of the vote, a second-place finish that put him on the Nov. 5 ballot with Lantigua.
Yesterday, Rivera said he would try to break Lantigua’s record of ignoring debate invitations by offering to hold one in Spanish, bowing to the mayor’s preference for speaking in Spanish while campaigning and governing in a city that is overwhelmingly Latino.
“In English or Spanish, whatever he wants,” Rivera said. “He doesn’t seem to want to debate anybody in any language. I just want to make it easy for him.”