EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 24, 2013

Lawrence City Council candidates call for election reform

By Mark E. Vogler

---- — LAWRENCE — The candidates seeking the three at-large seats on the City Council in the Nov. 5 city elections were unanimous in their support of voter identification and the need to clean up the election process in Lawrence.

But on the question of whether Mayor William Lantigua deserves another four years, there were three different answers — yes, no and whatever the voters decide.

Lantigua’s reelection was clearly the most contentious of the issues covered in last night’s 90-minute candidates’ forum sponsored by the Puerto Rican Political Action Coalition at the Lawrence Public Library.

“This government has done a good job and deserves another four years,” former City Councilor Modesto Maldonado told the crowd of about 40 who turned out at the first floor conference room. Maldonado cited the mayor’s ability to craft a balanced budget and one with a surplus over each of his first four years as a major reason why he should be re-elected.

But Maria D. De La Cruz, an unemployed school teacher and political newcomer, argued “we need an administration who cares about more business.”

“We need a new face and somebody who will administrate the city in a different way,” she said.

Roger A. Twomey, the lone incumbent councilor-at-large running in the race who seeks a fourth, two-year term, said he thought Lantigua had done a good job as mayor. Twomey declined to give the mayor a public endorsement and after the forum said he would maintain neutrality in the mayoral race, which pits Lantigua against outgoing City Councilor Daniel Rivera

“It’s going to be up to the people to determine,” Twomey told the audience.

Only half of the field of at-large candidates participated in last night’s forum. Former City Councilors Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez and Jorge A. Gonzalez and first-time candidate Wendy R. Luzon were absent.

Even so, Angel Rivera, the president of PR-PAC, said he was encouraged by the quality of the debate and the voter interest. The coalition is a new group focused on improving the participation of Puerto Ricans and other minorities in the political process locally and statewide.

Each of the candidates expressed concerns about the current state of the city’s voting process.

“It’s time that we have control of the Election Department,” De La Cruz said. Without adopting voter identification, the city will continue to have “a lot of irregularities going on,” she said.

Maldonado said he that voter ID “will keep our elections clean.”

“I think the elections office should be removed from City Hall and be totally independent of city government,” he said.

Twomey said he thought a voter ID system would “remove a lot of the stigma” attached the city’s political system.