After discussing the city’s immigrant history, City Hall lore, what drove him to public service and where to get the best college education (he recommended his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts), Rivera told the students that where ever they go to college, they should consider themselves ambassadors for the city.
“It’s important for you guys to go out and do something great to boost our image,” Rivera told them. “It’s important for us to keep in mind that everyone’s watching.”
Beyond remaking the city’s image, which Rivera says is fundamental to attracting developers, the tasks for the new mayor of the state’s poorest city are huge. Lawrence’s 14 percent unemployment is among the highest of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts. Its per capita income of about $17,000 is the lowest. One in four city children live in poverty. Abandoned mills along both sides of the Merrimack River contain millions of square feet of empty space. A state receiver runs the public schools and a state fiscal overseer has veto power over city spending.
Rivera stepped into those challenges 100 days ago with a promise to be bold, a word he used more than a dozen times in his inaugural address to an overflow crowd at Lawrence High School.
Yesterday, during a few minutes of down time between meetings and events, he responded to a question about his accomplishments so far by handing a reporter a bulleted, neatly typed list with 108 entries: hired six cops, a comptroller, a water commissioner and development and planning directors; restocked the boards and commissions that had gone fallow under Lantigua; met with Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and John Markey; helped manage the response to six winter storms, including the one that struck as he was taking the oath of office Jan. 2; sued the owner of the former Merrimac Paper mill to force him to demolish the ruins of a building destroyed in a fire; helped bring back the St. Patrick’s Day parade and instituted a dress code at City Hall, resulting in a lawsuit from a union.