Mayoral recall efforts are starting to feel all too routine in Lawrence. In the last two decades, four mayors have battled recall attempts — all unsuccessful —in the so-called “immigrant city,” including former mayor William Lantigua, who faced two in 2011 alone. And now his successor, Mayor Daniel Rivera, is facing a recall petition 20 months after taking office. While recall votes have their place as a check of clear executive abuses, Lawrence voters should prevent this latest recall battle from reaching the ballot. Rivera, while trying to lead a reform effort, has done nothing to merit a recall.
The effort is being led by a group called Foundation for Transparency in Government, which includes a Lawrence police officer whom the mayor tried to fire last year and an attorney who owns a funeral home in Lawrence that owed money to the city. The group submitted about 180 signatures, and enough were certified to allow the process to proceed. Now, petitioners have 30 days to obtain approximately 5,600 signatures of registered voters. If they succeed, Rivera must resign — or a special election will be held.
The recall petitioners are not accusing Rivera of illegal or criminal activity such as corruption or fraud. They list 10 reasons to support the mayor’s ouster, alleging that he broke campaign promises. Six of the reasons concern Rivera’s hiring and firing practices. But matters of political style and philosophy should not be the catalyst for a recall.
Rivera was elected to be an agent of change in Lawrence, the city with the highest percentage of Hispanics in the Commonwealth. He should be granted the time to bring reform to the beleaguered city, which still has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates. He has worked hard to improve the city’s image, but keeps running into political infighting that only stalls progress.
Recalls may have a place, but some Massachusetts municipalities make it too easy to launch efforts that should be reserved for only the gravest wrongdoing. In a city of about 78,000 residents like Lawrence, a few thousand signatures is not a very high bar. But a recall election would cost Lawrence about $30,000, a price tag that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The follow-up process isn’t particularly democratic, either: If voters decide to oust Rivera and there’s a wide field of mayoral hopefuls, his replacement could win with only a handful of votes.
Rivera said he’s concerned about the city’s image: “I worry that residents and people watching statewide will think this is normal for Lawrence, and that chaos rules.” The signature-gathering process will soon be a litmus test for Lawrence’s political sensibilities. Rivera has proved he deserves a chance to continue the Lawrence revival, and if he doesn’t succeed, let the voters express themselves through the regular election process.