EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 16, 2011

Group says names on Lantigua website a form of 'intimidation'

By Jill Harmacinski

LAWRENCE — The names and addresses of thousands of city residents whose names are on petitions to recall Mayor William Lantigua were posted on websites endorsing the mayor — a move a recall organizer said is an act of "intimidation."

Although the petitions are public information, Attorney Robert Okoniewski, a Lawrence resident who is supporting the recall, said he's concerned "how this information is going to be used."

He pointed to the "intensity of emotion" surrounding the recall effort and questioned whether the list and certain names will be used "to inflame Lantigua supporters."

Okoniewski, said yesterday the recall group should file a federal lawsuit against Lantigua and the city over the recall process, which they say was botched by City Clerk William Maloney.

The recall group called Its Your Right, collected 5,483 signatures to recall Lantigua. But, the group came up 866 votes short of the needed 5,232 votes to oust Lantigua, the city's Board of Registrars announced Friday night.

Lantigua and his supporters posted links to the names and addresses of those who signed the recall petitions on the website Yo No Firmo (I Won't Sign) and William Lantigua's Facebook pages.

"If your name appears and you did not sign, please go to City Hall and report this fraud to the Election Division," reads the instructions posted with names collected by Its Your Right volunteers.

A search mechanism is posted at the top of the website, allowing visitors to plug in someone's name to see if they signed to recall Lantigua.

Wayne Hayes of Its Your Right said he's received calls from people concerned about the listings. Hayes said he's been telling supporters "not to pay any attention to this," he said, adding it is an "asinine stunt by Lantigua to imply power and intimidation."

The group has vowed to restart the recall process and have Lantigua, the city's first Latino mayor, removed from office by Christmas.

In a press conference Sunday afternoon, Its Your Right members said they believe the recall was sabotaged by Maloney, who never signed and dated the recall petitions as required by the city charter.

Maloney's omission, a "fatal flaw" to the recall process, gave Lantigua supporters perfect grounds for appeal had the recall effort succeeded, Okoniewski said.

They group also said they have proof valid signatures were rejected by Lantigua-controlled workers.

Maloney, in an e-mail yesterday, declined comment.

Attempts to reach Lantigua for comment were unsuccessful.

Lantigua has not spoken to The Eagle-Tribune since April 22 when the paper revealed he and his administration were the focus of a multi-jurisdictional investigation involving weapons, narcotics, bid rigging, suspicious out-of-country travel and more.

Okoniewski said he will urge Its Your Right members to file a federal lawsuit against Lantigua, Maloney, the city's Board of Registrars and Elections Division for blocking the group's rights to recall an elected official. Voting is a fundamental right of every American citizen, he said.

"Their rights to participate in this process have been impeded," he said. "A serious discussion has to occur over these rights being violated."

Friday night, after the recall results were announced publicly, Lantigua sang and basked in triumph.

He is the fourth mayor in the past 20 years to face a potential recall. Only his predecessor Michael Sullivan avoided such a challenge.

It's Your Right spent the past month asking voters to sign their petitions, saying Lantigua has been derelict in his duties, insulting toward police and firefighters and is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Lantigua has professed his innocence and welcomed the investigations.

• • •

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screen name EagleTribJill. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.