By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Four of Mayor William Lantigua’s five challengers used the Lawrence Public Library last night to educate potential voters about why they should be elected to lead the city for the next four years.
But Lantigua — who didn’t attend the candidate’s forum sponsored by the Lawrence City Democratic Committee — drew the harshest criticism from City Councilor Marc Laplante, who is running for reelection to his District F South Lawrence East seat.
At the outset of his talk, Laplante said he looked forward to working with any one of the mayor’s five challengers on the ballot for the Sept. 17 preliminary election. The top two vote-getters will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
“I hope the next two years, I don’t have to be a goaltender and play defense so much,” Laplante said, referring to his frustrations of dealing with the Lantigua administration.
“Maybe there will be less of a need for checks and balances, because we will have some integrity in that corner office,” Laplante said.
Lantigua and accountant Nestor De Jesus were the two mayoral candidates who didn’t accept invitations from the City Democratic Committee to participate in last night’s forum, according to committee chairman Jay Rivera. Overall, 17 of 37 candidates in the preliminary election races participated in the forum.
Each of the candidates had time to provide opening and closing remarks and answer three questions selected by the committee. About 40 people, including the candidates, attended the forum.
City Councilor Daniel Rivera distanced himself from three other mayoral candidates by declaring he would hire more police officers “at all costs.”
“If we have to layoff other people in other departments to prioritize” the hiring of additional police officers, Rivera said he would make that choice.
“You can put 10 people on the street tomorrow if we want to do it,” he said.
But inventor James Patrick O’Donoghue argued that “robbing from Peter to pay Paul is not the way to do it.”
Cutting back on Department of Public Works staff to hire additional police officers would not be a prudent decision, O’Donoghue said. “You just have to grow your tax base or you’re not going to do it,” he said.
Firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez said he agreed that “public safety is number one.”
If elected, he said he would sit down with the new police chief and work on strengthening relations between the mayor’s office and the neighborhood associations.
But Gonzalez cautioned about putting other city services at risk to increase the number of police officers.
“If you cut DPW and the streets don’t get cleaned, people give up,” Gonzalez said.
State Rep. Marcos Devers, a former city councilor and interim mayor, said he would never lay off a police officer if elected mayor.
But he was noncommittal on the question of laying off DPW workers.
“We just need to use common sense. We need DPW to do its work,” Devers said. “If I need to hire more (police officers), I will hire more,” he said.