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The anti-Lantigua

Rivera plunges into Lawrence mayor’s race

BY: Gabrielle Gurley

In a campaign against a compromised, one-term incumbent that will be fought over burnishing the image of a struggling Gateway City as much as economic development and education, Lawrence City Councilor Dan Rivera has emerged as the anti-Lantigua.

Officially kicking off his candidacy Wednesday, Rivera said the city’s optimism and hope have been overtaken by “selfishness, incompetence, and arrogance,” thinly-disguised code words for William Lantigua, the sitting mayor running for re-election whose name he never mentioned during the nearly 45-minute press conference.

Rivera, 42, whose Dominican mother moved to Lawrence and worked in the mills in the city, has an appealing biography. The Eagle-Tribune paper carrier and Gulf War veteran has twice run and won an at-large council seat and is now in his third year as chair of the city council’s budget and finance committee.

Rivera returned frequently to what promises to be a central theme of his campaign. The “current administration,” as he referred to Lantigua’s City Hall, has left the city’s reputation in tatters and continues to compromise not only future federal and state dollars but private investment as well.

He noted that crime continues to be a concern and, with it, the perception that the entire city is a lawless, no-go zone. “It’s created an environment where people constantly feel embarrassed, mad, or cheated by a city they love and tried to make a life in,” Rivera said.

Former state representative David Torrisi, a Rivera supporter, believes that change at City Hall is the key to stimulating economic investment. “We have a lot of great resources that are just under-utilized right now because people don’t want to come here due to the political climate,” he said.  “The city needs right now someone who can unite the north and the south sides and also restore a level of pride to the city that’s been absent for the last four years.

Rivera has emerged as the front-runner among Lantigua’s challengers with his early announcement and a campaign war chest of about $14,000, which roughly matches the mayor’s. But he will have his work cut out for him. Fundraising will be key; the campaign is likely to cost a candidate about $100,000, if not more. Though Lantigua is a political pariah elsewhere in the Bay State and will have a tough time attracting campaign dollars outside the city limits, he remains popular at home.

But Rivera believes that Lantigua’s checkered record will dog him on the campaign trail. The mayor’s “negative nature…makes it hard for him to go out and make his case,” Rivera told CommonWealth.

Several other candidates, including city councilor Marc Laplante, state representative Marcos Devers, and David Abdoo, a former city councilor and mayoral candidate, are also said to be considering a run at the top slot. The top two finishers in a September primary will face off in November.

Lawrence’s statewide image has never been sterling, but it has taken a beating under Lantigua. His four years in office have been marred by scandals and erratic behavior that have turned him into the poster child for municipal dysfunction in Massachusetts. Two of his close associates have been indicted on corruption charges by an Essex County grand jury. He’s attacked his own well-regarded police chief, recently fired a city employee caring for a terminally ill wife, and been hit with a $5,000 campaign finance fine.

Yenni Rojas, a homeowner and mother of three boys from Lawrence’s Tower Hill neighborhood, attended Rivera’s announcement and said Lantigua has let residents down. “The city of Lawrence is ready for this change,” she said.

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