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Group seeks to oust Lawrence mayor

Residents gather signatures to recall Lantigua

The Rev. Edwin Rodriguez (left) was told by City Clerk William J. Maloney that there was a problem with the signatures. The Rev. Edwin Rodriguez (left) was told by City Clerk William J. Maloney that there was a problem with the signatures. (Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe)
By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / July 1, 2011

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About 20 Lawrence residents gathered at City Hall yesterday to start the process to recall Mayor William Lantigua.

A documentation mix-up got in their way.

The residents - part of a group called It’s Your Right, or “Es Tu Derecho’’ in Spanish - hope to expel Lantigua from office after federal and state officials began investigating him on accusations of corruption. Yesterday afternoon, they stood outside City Hall with a petition of about 200 signatures asking for a recall vote. Standing next to a large sign calling for Lantigua’s ouster, group members expressed their disapproval.

“Welcome to the ‘Goodbye, Willy’ party!’’ said the Rev. Edwin Rodriguez, founder of It’s Your Right.

But inside City Hall, the city clerk told the group the signatures were collected incorrectly.

Rodriguez said he will collect several hundred more signatures and bring them to the clerk today. The documentation snafu occurred because previous instructions from City Hall had been incorrect, he said.

The confusion was a slight setback, Rodriguez said, and would not deter community members committed to ending the mayor’s time in office.

“People in Lawrence, they are scared of this man, and we don’t need a mayor that scares people,’’ Rodriguez said. “We need a mayor that gives us confidence.’’

Lantigua did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

In 2009, Lantigua, born in the Dominican Republic, became the first Latino mayor in Massachusetts. Now, he is facing accusations he used government money for personal gain, including allegations that he shipped city-owned vehicles to his homeland.

Submitting a petition with at least 100 signatures is the first step in recalling an elected official in Lawrence. Next, residents rallying against Lantigua need to collect 5,232 more signatures, 15 percent of the voter turnout in the last election.

Javier Negron, 39, was born in Puerto Rico, but has lived in Lawrence 22 years. The mayor, he said, is an embarrassment.

“It’s Third World politics,’’ Negron said. “He’s intimidating people. He puts pressure on people who do not follow his way.’’

Wayne Hayes, 56, one of the organizers of It’s Your Right, said he is glad the coalition is diverse: Latinos and whites alike, he said, are frustrated and feel they have been wronged.

“Mr. Lantigua has destroyed the face and reputation of Lawrence’s Latino community,’’ he said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.