LAWRENCE — Senator Elizabeth Warren called the new mayor to the podium and smiled at him as he and his wife made their way across the stage.
“Are you ready?” Warren asked Daniel Rivera, who smiled back and exhaled nervously.
“I think so,” he said in a soft voice.
As his wife, Paula, held the Bible he has carried with him for 25 years, Rivera swore the oath of office, publicly accepting the job as leader of a city with huge obstacles — chief among them high unemployment and rising crime.
Almost 29 percent of Lawrence residents are living below the poverty line, compared with 11 percent statewide. The police force is down about 30 officers, a decrease many have blamed for rising crime rates in the city, where 14 percent of the 77,000 residents are unemployed.
Rivera pledged he would strive for safer streets, better schools, and a stronger local economy that would bring jobs to a city that was once bustling with mills and factories. Rivera, a 43-year-old former city councilor, said he knew the effort to make Lawrence great again would be strenuous.
“Hard work — that quiet, thoughtful and undaunted work — can conquer any wilderness, any ocean migration, any roaring river, and even win a campaign to change a city,” Rivera said. “You just have to get to work. So let’s get to work.”
Rivera squeaked out a victory against incumbent William Lantigua, a charismatic mayor who in 2009 became the first Latino elected to lead the city. But his four years in office were dogged by federal and state investigations: Top allies were undone by public corruption charges, though Lantigua was never accused of wrongdoing. Still, the controversy festered and in November, Rivera, who was seen by many as an underdog, beat him by 81 votes.
Lantigua was invited to Saturday’s ceremony and the inauguration gala at the Lawrence Elks Lodge that night, but a Rivera spokeswoman said he never responded to the mailed invitation. Lantigua did not return messages left on his phone Saturday.
During the inauguration ceremony no mention was made of Lantigua, but the songs, speeches, and prayers that marked the occasion underscored the hunger of many in this city for a different style of leadership.
Warren called Rivera’s election a “fresh start” for Lawrence.
Another ally, US Representative Niki Tsongas, who represents Lawrence, said the city had chosen a man with “forceful vision for change.”
More than 500 people packed the auditorium of the old Lawrence high school on Haverhill Street, a building now known as North Common Education Complex. A chorus of children played violin and the Lawrence High School Girls Ensemble choir sang “Arise a New Day.”
Rivera walked to the stage as the violin chorus played “America, the Beautiful,” a contrast with the song Lantigua chose for his swearing-in ceremony in 2010 — “My Way.”
Mery Motol-Rivols, a 50-year-old unemployed teacher who came to Rivera’s swearing-in, said she was glad no one mentioned the former mayor.
“Let’s forget the past and start anew,” she said.
Motol-Rivols said her greatest hope is that Rivera will find ways to improve Lawrence’s economy. Motol-Rivols said she has been without work for three years, but believes the new mayor can help change the fortunes of people like her.
“He’s a big kid,” she said Rivera. “He’s so jovial and always smiling. He has so much energy.”
Robin Allison Lindahl, an actress in her 40s who has lived in Lawrence for 10 years, said she is brimming with hope for Lawrence.
“Lawrence is a city with heart,” Lindahl said. “To see Dan Rivera come in who is for the people . . . I’m just excited. It’s all about the community for him.”
Rivera pledged to add 10 more officers to the police department and bring back monthly crime analysis meetings that would help supervisors better anticipate where crime would occur next.
He said his priorities are hiring a new fire chief and new police chief to replace John Romero — the popular former leader of the department.
He has said he plans to stop the paychecks of two Lantigua allies indicted on state corruption charges: Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager and deputy police chief, and Justo Garcia, a former employee at the municipal garage, have been on paid leave since pleading not guilty.
Rivera has pledged to be transparent and inclusive. After the inauguration, supporters and elected officials spilled into the nearby cafeteria, where they munched on American fare, such as roast beef and turkey sandwiches, and Dominican treats, like pastelitos de carne.
As Rivera posed for pictures with supporters, he caught sight of Isabel Melendez, Lantigua’s campaign manager, who had come to pledge her support to the new mayor.
“Ven, Isabel,” he said to her in Spanish. “Come here, Isabel.”
He wrapped her in a bear hug and whispered something in her ear. He put his arm around her as they posed for a picture, beaming.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.