LAWRENCE — Lawrence firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez calls himself “a regular guy” who wants to be the city’s next mayor.
“We can do better. We deserve better — that’s been my slogan,” said Gonzalez, 46, a once-proud supporter of Mayor William Lantigua who campaigned hard to get him elected four years ago. He stood on street corners alongside other Lantigua supporters holding signs for the city’s first-elected Hispanic mayor.
But these days, Gonzalez is holding campaign signs for himself — not the mayor. He is one of five candidates challenging Lantigua in the Sept. 17 preliminary election. The top two vote-getters will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
“What drove me to run is that I could not take another four years of the same. Integrity has been lacking in the city,” Gonzalez said in an interview last week.
“I lack the experience of a politician, but what I have is heart. I’m a regular guy, just a hard worker with no political experience,” said the 18-year veteran of the fire department.
Gonzalez announced his aspirations for mayor in May when he pulled nomination papers for the $100,000-a-year job. He actually grew disenchanted with the man he believed would be an excellent leader for Lawrence during the first half of Lantigua’s four-year term — in the midst of ongoing controversy, investigations into corruption and a city fiscal crisis.
Things came to a head in the spring of 2011 when contentious negotiations with firefighter and police unions led to pay cuts, demotions, the layoffs of 40 police officers and 23 firefighters and the closure of two firehouses. Gonzalez was among a group of 20 firefighters and police officers who joined “It’s Your Right,” a committee that sought to recall Lantigua.
The recall efforts failed. So did Gonzalez’s efforts to find a mayoral candidate he could back this year.