ANDOVER — Gov. Deval Patrick this week said he couldn't spare the time to attend a groundbreaking at the Riverwalk in Lawrence yesterday, but he managed instead to fit in a two-hour visit to Raytheon in the next town over.
"This morning, the governor met with employees and executives of Raytheon, a critical employer in the Merrimack Valley and the commonwealth," Deputy Press Secretary Kimberly Haberlin said yesterday. "He immediately returned to Boston in keeping with the limited schedule he has maintained this week in order to be at the Statehouse advocating for legislative priorities focused on job creation as the 2009-2010 session comes to a close."
Patrick's staff told Lawrence business leaders and city officials Monday he could not attend yesterday's 1:30 p.m. groundbreaking ceremony for the $50 million second phase of the Riverwalk complex.
They denied he canceled the Riverwalk invitation because of a threatened protest by firefighters angered over layoffs in the city.
But yesterday's visit to the sprawling Raytheon complex lasted from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., during which time he met with employees and executives. The high-tech weapons center employs nearly 5,000 people.
One Raytheon official said Patrick's visit was planned for some time, although he didn't know specifically when it had been arranged.
Patrick's absence at the Riverwalk was notable, in part, because firefighters from around the state were scheduled to conduct an informational picket to protest cuts to the Lawrence budget that have led to layoffs of about 50 public safety employees, including 23 firefighters.
Local firefighters were going to be joined by firefighters from all over the state after a notice was placed on the website of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts calling for people to show up in red shirts for the picket.
An area laborers union also had planned a protest at the groundbreaking.
Haberlin told The Eagle-Tribune Wednesday that the planned protests "had no influence on the governor's schedule."
Further, she said, "in the past, the governor has dealt with demonstrations from public safety officials upset about his civilian flagger reform and that has never impacted his schedule."
At Raytheon, the governor was briefed on the company's business, took a tour of the building, and made comments to employees and executives at the plant. It is the first time Patrick has visited Raytheon's Andover facility.
Raytheon has been an economic success story in Massachusetts, increasing the number of employees by 1,200 since 2008.
John MacDonald, vice president for marketing for Sal Lupoli's Riverwalk companies, said he didn't begrudge the governor visiting Andover rather than Lawrence.
"I'm sure his visit to Andover was very important," he said.
Lupoli is on vacation and has been unavailable for comment. He had planned on flying up from Martha's Vineyard to attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
Lenny Degnan, the chief of staff for Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, said he didn't think it was a big deal that the governor decided against coming to Lawrence.
"There's a lot going on at the Statehouse," he said. "Besides, this was Sal's event. He invites everybody."
He said he thought it might be more appropriate for the governor to return to the Riverwalk in November, after the building is more or less complete.
"A lot of people are away now," Degnan said. Even Lantigua is scheduled to fly to the Dominican Republic sometime next week for a vacation, he said.
"It's probably better to wait until the project is closer to being done," he said. "The governor will be there then."
November marks another important date — Election Day. Patrick is facing a challenge from Republican Charles Baker and independent candidate Tim Cahill, the state treasurer.