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adrian walker

Opportunity for Lawrence

Dan Rivera hasn’t heard from William Lantigua lately, and he’s fine with that.

Relations have long been chilly between the onetime allies in Lawrence, and it hasn’t helped matters that Rivera, a Lawrence city councilor, just unseated Lantigua as mayor. Rivera prevailed by 81 votes in a recount on Saturday, and is poised to take over in January.

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“Honestly, it’s a tough time,” the gracious Rivera said Sunday. “When you lose — and I’ve lost my share — it’s really a bad feeling, and I don’t have this expectation that people are going to be at their highest character. I’m sure I’ll talk with the mayor soon.”

By a slim margin, Lawrence voters ended Lantigua’s unsettling reign, a grim period that figures to be remembered primarily for serial investigations and the occasional City Hall conviction. True, Lantigua’s own proven wrongdoing was confined to campaign-finance violations, but he did no favors for the hardscrabble city that placed so much faith in him, its first Latino mayor.

Enter Rivera, and what a change he has a chance to be.

“I’m a Lawrence kid,” he said Sunday. “I grew up here, and I just think we deserve a fighting chance in the world. As a city councilor, I saw opportunity after opportunity get lost.”

Rivera has plenty to take on. At the top of the list is jobs: Lawrence needs a lot more of them.

“With our high-quality immigrant workforce and educational institutions there’s no reason we can’t do that,” he said. “We have to sell Lawrence, so we can get jobs here. I also want to be a huge cheerleader for the educational reform we’re doing here.”

Rivera is a product of the Lawrence schools he talks about. When he graduated from Lawrence High in 1989 he didn’t even bother to apply to college.

“I didn’t think I could get into a college, or do well in one,” he said.

Instead he enlisted in the Army, serving in Operation Desert Storm. After his discharge he attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the GI Bill, before returning to Lawrence.

He ran the public housing development he had grown up in, and worked in City Hall for Lantigua’s predecessor. The political bug began to get him. Part of his inspiration was Dick Cheney, of all people.

“I saw Cheney on TV talking about sending troops to war and I thought, ‘Those guys in suits get to make a lot of decisions for a lot of people,’ ” Rivera said. “I wanted to have some impact on public policy and things that affect our community deeply.”

To be sure, Lantigua has yet to go away. In an interview on a Spanish-language radio station Sunday, he said that he will disclose on Monday whether he will sue over the recount. But, in fact, Rivera’s margin grew during the recount. For all Lantigua’s bluster, this election is almost certainly over.

Rivera insisted that, his own feelings aside, he understands the lingering admiration for the magnetic Lantigua, and why he appeals to voters. In fact, Rivera is amused by those who are surprised Lantigua survived as long as he did.

“I’m shocked that so many people are shocked,” Rivera said. “For first-generation leaders to break through and get power for people who have been marginalized, people love that. People have a great love for him. I have great respect for him for having done it. I just think he blew a huge opportunity.”

Rivera believes his own campaign was propelled to victory largely by younger voters who were embarrassed to see Lawrence turned into a laughingstock, voters who hated being constantly confronted with the question, “What’s up with your mayor?”

He looks forward, he said, to settling things down. The biggest difference between Lantigua and Rivera may be that the mayor-elect doesn’t think this is all about him.

“I’m anxious to bring us back together as a community,” Rivera said. “The vote says that we’re a deeply divided city, and it pains me to think we can’t come together.”

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.

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