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Lantigua critics set to restart recall bid

Say Lawrence clerk erred in process

Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence will face another recall effort by opponents after their petitions were invalidated last week. Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence will face another recall effort by opponents after their petitions were invalidated last week.
By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / August 15, 2011

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Opponents of Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua said yesterday that they are withdrawing their petition for a recall election and starting the process from scratch.

A clerical oversight invalidates all 5,483 signatures collected, they said, and the fault lies with the city clerk, William Maloney.

“The clerk was supposed to sign the petition, and he didn’t,’’ said Wayne Hayes, 56, a member of It’s Your Right, the organization seeking Lantigua’s ouster. “So we have basically wasted 30 days.’’

Lantigua and Maloney did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

In 2009, Lantigua, who was born in the Dominican Republic, became the first Latino mayor to be elected in Massachusetts. Now, he is the target of investigations by state officials for possible campaign finance violations and by the federal government for allegations of corruption.

Members of It’s Your Right want Lantigua out of office. After submitting an initial petition of at least 100 signatures in mid-July demanding an election to recall the mayor, the group was given 30 days to obtain 5,232 more signatures, which would be 15 percent of voter turnout in the last election. About 50 volunteers spent a month knocking on the doors of Lawrence homes and standing on sidewalks for hours each day to get the petitions filled, Hayes said.

On Friday, the city’s Board of Registrars determined that at least 1,000 signatures collected in the petition were invalid because of problems such as illegible names or addresses that did not match city records.

That left the petitioners 866 signatures short of the requirement for a recall election.

On Saturday, while the petition leaders worked to obtain affidavits for all the missing signatures, the group’s attorneys realized that all 5,483 signatures collected are invalid, because Maloney did not sign and date each page of the petition that he distributed to the group leaders at the beginning of the 30-day period.

Without the clerk’s stamp, the Board of Registrars would probably not accept the petitions because they would not be able to verify that the petitions had valid signatures that had been gathered in the past month, Hayes said.

Because of the error, the Lawrence residents taking part in the effort to remove Lantigua from office will have to start the petition process all over again.

Hayes said he believes the oversight was intentional.

“The clerk, he’s supposed to work for us,’’ Hayes said. “He’s supposed to be our city clerk, not the mayor’s city clerk.’’

Grisel Silva, vice president of the Lawrence City Council, said the large number of signatures on the petition proved that there is widespread disapproval of the mayor, regardless of whether those signatures are considered valid by the Board of Registrars.

“It wasn’t 1,000. It wasn’t 2,500. It was over 5,000 people who strongly believed this man is not doing what citizens would like him to do,’’ Silva said.

In a letter dated last Tuesday, Lantigua asked the Board of Registrars to provide verification that the blank copies of the petitions distributed by the city clerk to It’s Your Right were signed and dated by Maloney.

“Based upon information that I have received, as of this date, please expect a full and thorough challenge on my behalf of any and all signatures submitted, verified, and certified,’’ Lantigua wrote in his letter.

Members of It’s Your Right said they have no intention of giving up on their battle against the mayor.

“I don’t feel defeated,’’ said the Rev. Edwin Rodriguez, a Pentecostal minister who was the founder of the group pushing for a recall. “I’m ready to start all over again.’’ Rodriguez said the group will be more careful this time, ensuring that no technicalities bar their efforts.

The group does not have a date for when they will restart the petition process, he said, but hopes that it will be able to force a recall election by Christmas.

Globe correspondent L. Finch contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.