LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua laid off 23 firefighters in his first months in office, when he also shut the Bailey Street firehouse and called on residents to videotape firefighters on the job to document their alleged misconduct.
The former leader of the firefighters union denounced the allegation as “an out-and-out travesty” and firefighters heckled the mayor – waving their cell phones as if they were recording him — as he walked into a meeting with fire officials from neighboring municipalities.
Since then, Lantigua has rehired all but a handful of the firefighters, given the department’s 130 union members 2.5 percent annual raises, reopened a firehouse and toned down his rhetoric.
Late Wednesday, the union representing the Fire Department’s 130 uniformed and civilian employees voted by a wide margin to endorse Lantigua for re-election.
Union president Eric Zahn estimated the vote to be about 20-6, although he said no formal count was taken because the support for Lantigua was overwhelming.
The vote reflected the mayor’s ability to use the power and perks of his office to make things right with the union, as well as the lingering unease some firefighters have for Lantigua’s opponent, City Councilor Daniel Rivera. In 2010, Rivera asked all of the city’s public safety unions to voluntarily reopen their contracts to find givebacks as a way to avoid more layoffs, and last year he said the city could not afford the raises Lantigua negotiated with the firefighters and voted against them.
Only 20 percent of the union’s 130 members attended the union meeting at the Relief’s In on Wednesday night, when they questioned Lantigua and Rivera separately behind closed doors for about an hour each. Still, the endorsement was a comeback for a mayor once vilified by the firefighters and it came amid signs that his relationship with other public safety unions also is thawing as the Nov. 5 election approaches.