At the polls in Lawrence Nov. 7, voters will choose between their current mayor, Daniel Rivera, and William “Willie” Lantigua, the controversial former mayor and state representative who Rivera ousted four years ago by just 81 votes.
Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with about 28 percent of its 80,000 residents living in poverty, according to the most recent census data. In 2011, while Lantigua was mayor, the school district was taken over by state receivership.
Crime has been an ongoing issue: As of Sept. 30, there have been seven murders and 288 aggravated assaults reported by the city Police Department this year under Rivera’s watch.
In September’s preliminary, Rivera beat Lantigua by 1,120 votes. But Lantigua, who often refers to the people of Lawrence as his “familia,” holds a spot in many of the residents’ hearts. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and the first Latino mayor in the state, he connected with his constituents — about 75 percent of whom are Hispanic, and about 40 percent immigrants — on a personal level.
“He used to be in the park with the kids, playing baseball,” said Minerva Rosado Gonzalez, 56. “We felt more safe. We go out on the street now because we believe in God, but we don’t feel safe.”
Others see improvements under Rivera. “He has demonstrated that he really cares about the city,” said Francisco Brea, 63. He likes the stability the mayor has brought to the city’s budget, as Rivera often speaks of running the city like running a business.
“When we vote, we don’t want to go back to the past,” Brea said. “We want to continue to progress.”Laura Elyse King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauraelyseking.