By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — A Pentecostal minister who led a failed effort to recall Mayor William Lantigua in 2011 said yesterday he will approach the task in a different way this year: by running for the job himself.
“Awful, awful, awful,” Rev. Edwin Rodriguez said about the job Lantigua has done. “That’s why I made the effort for the recall. Crime is up. We are 94th in the nation with crime. We are the poorest city in the state of Massachusetts. I would like to end that.”
Rodriguez, 60, is the sixth person to pick up nominating petitions since they became available April 3. To become a candidate in the primary he must return the papers with 250 signatures of registered city voters by Aug. 6. Besides Lantigua, the potential field also includes City Councilor Daniel Rivera, state Rep. Marcos Devers, inventor James Patrick O’Donaghue and accountant Nester DeJesus.
The preliminary election is Sept. 17. The general election is Nov. 7.
Rodriguez was the founder and president of “It’s Your Right,” which led the effort to recall Lantigua two years ago. The effort failed when City Clerk William Maloney invalidated more than 1,100 of the 5,500 signatures the group collected, leaving the recall 900 signatures short of what was needed to make it to the ballot.
Rodriguez volunteered in a second recall effort later in 2011, but did not direct it. That effort also fell short.
Last year, Rodriguez ran for one of the three at-large seats on the City Council, coming in fifth in a field of six. He received 2,091 votes.
He spent just $919 on the council race, all of it his own money. His campaign organization had nothing in the bank on Dec. 31, 2012, his campaign finance report shows. He said yesterday he expects to raise $50,000 in the campaign for mayor, about half of what other candidates say they will spend.
As mayor, Rodriguez said he would focus on reducing crime, attracting development, creating jobs, restoring the city’s image and retaking control of the city’s finances and its school system from the state-appointed overseer and receiver who now control them.
“I would demonstrate to the state that there are people capable of doing that without the supervision of the state,” Rodriguez said. “We have people in Lawrence who could do it, and I could do it.”
Rodriguez also criticized Jeff Riley, the receiver running city schools, for replacing some of the teachers he fired with teachers who live outside the city.
“We need people living here, working here, spending their money here,” Rodriguez said.
He said he would spend the $5 million left in last year’s budget surplus to retain the 31 firefighters who may be laid off this summer when the federal grant that is paying their salaries runs out. Robert Nunes, the city’s fiscal overseer, opposes using one-shot revenues such as a surplus for paying ongoing operating costs such as salaries, saying it would indicate the city’s finances remain out of whack.
Rodriguez said he would also hire more cops by more aggressively pursuing state and federal grants to pay their salaries. He said more cops would reduce crime, a first step in restoring the city’s image.
“I’d like to have a city that would attract people and change the opinion that people outside Lawrence have,” Rodriguez said. “People outside think of Lawrence in a negative way and I’d like to change that.
Rodriguez is a former minister at El Faro Universal Church in Lawrence, which merged with the Assemblies of God church three years ago. El Faro has 45 churches in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, which Rodriguez said he helps oversee.
He immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico as a 16-year-old in 1967, seeking a “new adventure” and an education. He lived on Long Island and New York City before moving to Lawrence in 1991.
He is married and has two children and five grandchildren. He lives on Haverhill Street in North Lawrence.