By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — City Councilor Daniel Rivera yesterday told the first rally of his campaign to unseat Mayor William Lantigua that under Lantigua’s leadership the city has been remade from one that attracted immigrants “from all over the world to transform their lives” into one where residents feel “cheated by a city they love.”
Rivera did not mention Lantigua by name during his six-minute speech to about 70 supporters in the lobby of the historic Everett Mills building on Union Street, which he noted is the birthplace of the labor movement in the United States.
But he said the administration has driven out jobs and businesses, presided over sub-par schools and rising crime rates, and created “a perception of lawlessness throughout our city.”
As he did when he declared his candidacy by touring local media two days ago, he suggested his campaign would be personal as well as political.
“I’m a Lawrence kid and I grew up on her streets, went to her schools and my mother came here from the Dominican Republic and worked in her factories,” the 42-year-old vice chairman of the City Council told the racially mixed crowd in a speech delivered first in English and then in Spanish. “That sense of optimism and hope that this community installed in me and many others has been overtaken by selfishness, incompetence and arrogance.”
Rivera’s speech was more thematic than specific and offered few solutions to the chronic problems he identified, including a 14-percent unemployment rate that is one of the highest in Massachusetts. He said his administration would focus on attracting economic development; rebuilding the fire and police departments, which are slowly recovering from layoffs and attrition in 2009 and 2010; improving city schools, which last year were taken over by the state; and repairing the city’s image.
Asked after the speech about what would be his first act as mayor, Rivera responded, “The first thing you do, you have a conversation with (Police Chief) John Romero. What do we do to make public safety better? Second, you have a conversation with (school superintendent) Jeff Riley. What do we need to do to kick start the education process?”
Lawrence mayors chair the city’s School Committee.
Rivera, an Army veteran of the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in Iraq, also was asked by Marine veteran Jorge Torres about how he would improve life for local veterans. He responded that as chairman of the council’s budget committee, he pushed for more funding for the city’s veterans’ office and supported the effort to open a shelter for homeless veterans.
Lantigua announced Dec. 28 that he would seek a second four-year term. He could not be reached last night, but in a State of the City address to the City Council Tuesday, he said both the unemployment and crime rates have dropped during his three years in office and noted that student test scores recently began rising.
Unemployment in Lawrence is now 13.9 percent, down from 17.7 percent when Lantigua took office in January 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
The rally for Rivera yesterday offered a first public clue about how other public officials in the city and region may be lining up in the race for mayor. City Councilors Eileen Bernal and Kendrys Vasquez attended the rally, as did former state Rep. David Torrisi and two members of local school committees. Evan Silverio, the son of former mayoral candidate Julia Silverio, also attended. Reached afterward, Julia Silverio said she has not endorsed any candidate.