By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — A month before the primary election, Mayor William Lantigua has chosen his longtime political ally Isabel Melendez as campaign manager.
“We’ve always worked together for the same cause and she is highly respected in Lawrence,” Lantigua said. “I can’t do everything myself and with her in the campaign I can accomplish a lot.”
He said Melendez can motivate people to participate in the campaign and identify potential voters. In addition to the traditional campaign, Lantigua has been using social media more than in the past. It includes photographs of him and supporters holding signs on city streets, posing with residents and at city-wide events.
“More people are using it and if I post anything on Facebook, it’s seen by more people,” he said.
Lantigua is running for reelection. He is being challenged by Lawrence Firefighter, Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, City Councilor at large Daniel Rivera, State Rep. Marcos Devers, accountant Nestor DeJesus and inventor James P. O’Donaghue.
Lantigua said Melendez has always been part of his campaigns. When asked by Lantigua to run his reelection campaign, Melendez said she was happy to oblige.
“I’ve always helped him and supported him as a person, a candidate and mayor,” said Melendez, a Lawrence resident for 54 years.
Both Melendez and Lantigua, who have known each other for 35 years, scoff at the idea that he named her manager because Melendez could help him get votes from Puerto Ricans living in the city.
“So why did I have her help me in my other campaigns?” Lantigua said. “She is a very hard worker and I have no doubts that her experience and leadership will help increase the percentage of citizens who will vote for me.”
“I don’t believe that’s the reason why he chose me because I’ve always supported him,” she said. “Through my job, I’ve worked with more Dominicans than Puerto Ricans.”
In addition to paving many of the city’s streets, Lantigua said some of his accomplishments as mayor include taking a city on the brink of bankruptcy to balancing four budgets, getting automated garbage collection and inviting the state to take over the city’s schools.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re a lot better than before,” Lantigua said.
Melendez also mentioned Lantigua’s achievement in balancing the city’s budget as a highlight.
“I know we’ve made mistakes, but I believe in his work and I trust him and been faithful to him,” Melendez said.
Though there have been rumors over the years of discord between them, both say they’ve always been on good terms.
Lantigua said Melendez, along with the late Rick DiZazzo inspired him to become a community activist and later go into politics.
“I feel proud of that. He’s like an adopted son,” she said.
Lantigua ran Melendez’ campaign for mayor in 2001, when she became the first Hispanic female to win a primary in Massachusetts. After losing to Michael Sullivan, she encouraged Lantigua to run for the legislature. He held the post until he became mayor more than three years ago.
Melendez whom Lantigua calls “Godmother” as a term of endearment, swore him in as Lawrence’s first Latino mayor.
Melendez retired in 2011 as director of the Community Service Center, formerly called the Spanish program, at the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council after 38 years. Her daughter, Marisa Melendez succeeded her mother in that position. Her son Jaime Melendez, an Army veteran with 23 years of service, is the Veteran’s Service director for the city of Lawrence.
Melendez hosts “La Voz del Pueblo” or “The Voice of the People” on 1490 WCEC, a forum about current issues and provides public information. She runs English as a second language, citizenship, crocheting and computer classes out of the General Donovan School.
“Isabel is a very important person in my life. She is someone whom I admire and respect the most,” the mayor said of Melendez.