Challenger Rivera declares victory over Lawrence mayor Lantigua

An hour after the polls closed, City Councilor Daniel Rivera declared victory over Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, with a slim margin of victory. However, official returns were not yet available, and Lantingua has not conceded.

Lantigua, a 58-year-old former state representative, was widely considered the front-runner. His historic election in 2009 as the state’s first Latino mayor soon gave way to state and federal investigations of his administration and the indictments of some of his closest allies, including his former campaign manager, a deputy police chief now on paid leave.

But Lantigua, who calls himself “the people’s mayor,” is also beloved by many in Lawrence for paving roads, improving parks, and making City Hall accessible to the Latino majority. He won the endorsement of the firefighters union and some of his former critics in the police department.

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Earlier today, Lantigua posted a campaign ad on Facebook aimed at Spanish-speaking voters.

“Remember,” he said in Spanish, “I know you and you know me.”

Rivera, 42, a Gulf War veteran, won the endorsements of Senator Elizabeth Warren, US Representative Niki Tsongas, the Lawrence teachers’ union, and three of the four candidates who lost in September. He has pledged to improve public safety and schools and restore the city’s image to encourage investors to create jobs.

Tuesday, he urged younger voters like him, the child of an immigrant mother from the Dominican Republic, to back his campaign. But he also appealed to 92-year-old Elizabeth Fallisi who said she could not drive herself to the polls.

His campaign had offered her a ride, but Fallisi said she only wanted to be driven by someone she knew.

So, Rivera offered to pick her up himself.

“I’d love it,” Fallisi said.

Massachusetts’ top election official oversaw voting in Lawrence today, two months after a preliminary election was plagued by complaints of poor organization and errors by poll workers.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin emphasized that Lantigua and Rivera welcomed the intervention, which is similar to the state’s takeover of Boston polls after the city failed to distribute enough ballots in 2006.

“There have been issues raised, but most of them have evaporated upon review,” Galvin said in a telephone interview. “It’s a work in progress, but I can speak up to the moment. I’m comfortable that every procedure is properly being followed.”

Galvin said he sent about 10 lawyers and observers to the city today, including Spanish speakers, because Lawrence is 74 percent Latino. By midday, the state had fielded a few complaints that were mostly resolved. One poll worker was fired after officials said he campaigned outside the polling place. Another was challenged, but stayed on the job.

Massachusetts Common Cause, a nonprofit watchdog group, also sent about 30 volunteers to Lawrence, the only city they dispatched volunteers to today, said Executive Director Pam Wilmot.

Wilmot said they had received reports that polling places did not have enough signs identifying them as voting locations and of campaigns dropping off literature at the polls. But those issues, she said, were fixed.

“The phone has not been ringing off the hook, and that’s a good thing,” she said.

Galvin said he is supervising the Lawrence elections because of repeated complaints during the September preliminary elections. His office found mistakes by poll workers, from a chaotic polling place to the penciling in of unregistered voters who may have been accidentally deleted from the list. Galvin said the errors did not affect the final outcome of the election.

Since then, he said, the state has held two open meetings in Lawrence, retrained all elections workers, and brought in outsiders to supervise.

The state oversight comes as both candidates battled for every vote in this immigrant city of 76,000 people, 36 percent of whom, like Lantigua, are immigrants, according to the census. Most, including the mayor, are from the Dominican Republic.

Lawrence is also one of the state’s poorest and most troubled cities. The city has the highest unemployment rate in Massachusetts — about 15 percent — and in 2011 the state took over the public school system.

Today, campaigns for both candidates vowed to fight until the polls closed at 7 p.m., working the phones in English and Spanish, knocking on doors and chatting on social media. Some 36,800 people are registered to vote. Lantigua won 5,725 votes in the September preliminaries, or 48 percent, while Rivera won 2,799, or 23 percent.

Lantigua is running for his second term, which would be his last under current city regulations. However, his supporters have said they will push to lift the term limits to allow him to run for office.