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Lantigua recall organizers still hopeful

Mayor’s foes aim to prove validity of signatures

By Ben Wolford
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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Petition leaders in Lawrence were optimistic yesterday that they could salvage enough signatures from the more than 1,000 rejected by election officials and still put Mayor William Lantigua on a recall ballot.

With only a few days to raise objections, organizers are working line by line to verify that signatories were registered to vote in Lawrence.

The city’s Board of Registrars determined that only 4,366 signatures were valid out of the 5,483 that were filed - 866 shy of the number needed to force a recall election - and announced the results Friday evening to a rollicking crowd of Lantigua supporters.

“Interestingly enough, we’re finding good names that were rejected that don’t make sense,’’ Wayne Hayes, one of the leaders of the recall effort, said in a brief phone interview yesterday, as he was orchestrating volunteers and checking names and addresses against a voter registration list.

He said some signatures were rejected because addresses did not match, but often the records were not up to date. For those residents, Hayes was dispatching volunteers to their homes to have them sign affidavits confirming their support of the recall.

“I’ve got people sitting here waiting to go,’’ he said, before rushing off the phone.

One of the most curious rejections, Hayes said, was the signature of Councilor Marc Laplante, who said on Friday that he did not know why his was deemed invalid, given that he had lived at the address he wrote on the petition for 10 years.

On Monday, recall organizers handed in thousands of signatures of people they said pledged their disapproval of Lantigua, who was elected in January 2010 and was almost immediately hounded by opposition.

Criticism first arose when Lantigua refused to relinquish his state representative’s seat, collecting two government paychecks simultaneously, and then when he cut police staffing amid rising crime.

Lantigua also is under investigations by the state for possible campaign finance violations and by federal agents for allegations of corruption.

Lantigua has denied accusations and said he inherited crippling problems from a past administration, such as a multimillion-dollar budget deficit that required state intervention.

On Friday, after the board announced the results of its review, Lantigua, the Commonwealth’s first Latino mayor, basked in the cheers of a supportive crowd outside City Hall, thanking them for their confidence. In a statement, he said Lawrence voters “reconfirmed that I am still their choice for mayor.’’

Nonetheless, he pledged Friday to weed out more invalid signatures, pointing to instances where he said handwriting was similar.

“It’s not about me; it’s about the process,’’ Lantigua said.

Both sides have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file objections with the Board of Registrars, said City Attorney Charles Boddy. At a subsequent meeting, the board will allow them to elaborate on their objections, then vote on them.

If Lantigua’s adversaries can convince the board that 866 signatures were improperly thrown out, the recall will go to the ballot. It was unclear yesterday how many names the organizers have recovered, they said.

“We have found many, many signatures of people we know are registered and they were rejected and they don’t know why,’’ said the Rev. Edwin Rodriguez, a Pentecostal minister who is helping to lead the recall.

“Right now, we are working on that,’’ he said.

Ben Wolford can be reached at bwolford@globe.com.