LAWRENCE — The home rule petition required to bypass a special election to elect the next mayor of Lawrence cleared the House and Senate Tuesday and was formally signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker late Thursday night, mere hours before Mayor Daniel Rivera leaves office.
Still, some residents contend their right to vote and choose Rivera's successor is being denied. Two of those residents have filed suit in Salem Superior Court accusing the City Council of improperly submitting the home rule petition.
Dalia Diaz, the director and editor of Rumbo newspaper and a Lawrence resident, filed for an emergency injunction Tuesday claiming that the council acted improperly when conducting the meeting that resulted in a vote to send the petition to the legislature.
She co-filed the civil claim with Modesto Maldonado, a former City Councilor. According to court documents, the defendants are listed as "City Council of the City of Lawrence, namely Kendrys Vasquez, Mark Laplant (sic), David Abdoo, Estela Reyes, Celina Reyes and Maria De La Cruz.
"This country is going through enough turmoil. The people of Lawrence want to be respected and all I am asking is for the laws to be followed," Diaz said in court documents obtained by The Eagle-Tribune. "This community is only asking for the right to select our leaders, not having them imposed on us."
If the petition is approved, Vasquez, president of the City Council, would become acting mayor and have all the powers of the mayor until the next regularly scheduled municipal election in 2021.
A primary election would be held in September followed by the general election in November. The winner of the November election would be seated immediately and serve the balance of the unexpired term.
According to the plaintiffs, the charter requires a public hearing to order a special election and since one was not formally held, the rights of voters have been violated.
City Solicitor Raquel Ruano confirmed during a Dec. 22 ordinance committee meeting that a hearing is only required if the council is voting on an ordinance or loan order — of which the special election is neither.
Diaz and Maldonado are asking the judge to rule the council's actions illegal and order that the home rule petition is withdrawn and that a special election is held.
Prior to the Dec. 29 vote, Council Vice President Marc Laplante invited residents to offer feedback on the proposed special election. Residents who spoke in favor of a special election accused councilors of not listening to the will of the people.
Others who asked council members to hold off on the election reasoned that imminent coronavirus concerns outweighed the need to choose a new leader, especially since Vasquez could serve in the interim. Those speaking in opposition also said the cost of an extra election would present an undue burden on the city.
"The past two years have been a disrupting turmoil in Lawrence with the gas explosions and the pandemic; those are not reasons to give up our rights," Diaz countered.
Councilors Estela Reyes, Celina Reyes, Abdoo, De La Cruz and Laplante voted in favor of sending the home rule petition to the Legislature, which was done Wednesday before the session ended. Due to a conflict of interest, Vasquez did not vote and was not present for the entire special election discussion. Laplante, as vice president, presided over the meeting in Vasquez’s absence.
Councilors Pavel Payano and Jeovanny Rodriguez voted against the petition. Ana Levy did not vote.
Rivera announced his resignation plans in December after he was appointed president and CEO of MassDevelopment, a state agency aimed at improving the economy and infrastructure across Massachusetts. Vasquez will be sworn in during a ceremony Friday afternoon that will be streamed live over the Office of the Mayor - Lawrence MA Facebook page starting at 5:30 p.m.