Ten candidates vie to be Mayor of Lawrence
By: Tom Duggan – September, 2009
There are ten candidates running to replace Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan in the September 22nd city primary elections. The top two candidates will face a runoff election on November 3rd. Here is a snapshot of each candidate.
David Abdoo, Candidate for Mayor
Abdoo is the District “E” city councilor representing South Lawrence West on the council. He was elected two years ago and is in his first term.
Abdoo is a lifelong resident of Lawrence and a 1985 graduate of Central Catholic High School. He then earned a Bachelor’s degree from Salem State College and is presently working on his Masters in Public Administration from Suffolk University. Abdoo is the Governmental & Public Affairs Director for the US Department of Health & Human Services in Boston.
Prior to working for the federal government, Abdoo worked in State government as the Chief Policy Analyst for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation. He is an Armored Cavalry Officer in the Army/Navy National Guard and a member of Saint Patrick’s Finance Council.
As an aide to State Senator Bruce Tarr, Dave helped constituents resolve problems with state and local agencies and receive services through government programs. Abdoo has been a member of the Mt. Vernon Neighborhood Association since 1999. He is married with 2 children. He is also the former Chairman of the Lawrence Planning Board and the Lawrence representative to the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.
Abdoo has taken a tough stand on Lawrence Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy saying on WCAP radio last month that even if Laboy is not found guilty of any wrongdoing in the schools “he no longer has the moral authority to lead the school system”.
Abdoo lists constituent services as one of his top his priorities and says he will have one full time person working in the mayor’s office to handle phone calls, emails and resident complaints.
Dave has put forth his vision for a master plan for the city and has called for a full audit of not only the school department but every department in the city within his first 90 days as mayor. He says that he knows he will find waste within the city’s budget and will shift those dollars to more effectively run the city.
Abdoo has shied away from the shenanigans that occur at the city council table and avoids the shouting matches and personal attacks that go on at meetings, preferring a more laid back style of governing. He opposed the current development of the Saunders School being used as a half way house (which is in his district) and has been harsh in his criticism on the administration’s budgets.
He has not been involved in any major controversies since being elected two years ago, but has taken criticism by fellow candidates for his acceptance of police chief John Romero’s endorsement in the race.
During the Oiste debate last month, Abdoo said he would be a hands-on mayor when it comes to public safety but broke with the police department when he said he wants to have an “outside body” investigating allegations of police abuses rather than an in house internal affairs department.
Contrary to claims by some of his opponents Abdoo is a registered Independent and has been for years.
Councilor Nilka Alvarez Rodriguez
As a district councilor in the Arlington Neighborhood (District “C”), Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez was an independent voice for her constituents for more than six years. In 2005 Nilka was forced to move out of her home (her landlord refused to fix the heat in the building). And because her new home address was outside her district, she was compelled to step down (though not legally required to) and allow the city council to temporarily appoint a replacement (which turned out to be Barbara Gonzalez).
That year she ran for city council at-large capturing one of the three open seats and was reelected in 2007. Nilka is now running for mayor after ten years on the city council.
Alvarez-Rodriguez is an adjunct professor at Merrimack College and a consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Retardation. She has the endorsements of Oiste and several labor and human service organizations. She has generally worked well with her colleagues during her eight years on the council, has an understanding of budgets, non-profits, the workings of city departments and the flow of grant money through city coffers.
She is not afraid to go against the wishes of political insiders when she is passionate about an issue, and cannot be manipulated by outside forces like State Rep. Willie Lantigua, (though she is influenced by Lawrence Community Works).
In 2003 Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez enjoyed the distinction of being the only Latino candidate who was not endorsed by the “Latino Agenda,” a racist group of political activists who endorse candidates based solely on their ethnicity.
She does, on rare occasions, have a tendency to allow race or ethnicity to enter into some of her political decisions, especially when Latino activists pack the council chambers to bully the council. Alvarez-Rodriguez did oppose selling the city owned, in-town mall on Common St. to Northern Essex Community College for a $26 Million Health and Technology Center.
Alvarez opposed the NECC project because a Latino named Benny Espaillat was the other bidder on the property and Alvarez was pressured by Spanish speaking activists in the city to be “loyal” to a “Latino,” something Alvarez-Rodriguez was more than happy to do. In both 2003 and 2005 she lobbied other councilors to be elected council vice-president saying a “Latino” councilor should be president or vice president, which did not sit well with her colleagues.
But Alvarez-Rodriguez is no racist and she is no race-baiter.
She is not looking to be the “leader of the Latinos” and though her positions can be tainted by racial pressure, Alvarez has no problem at all siding against Latino activists when it suits her. One example of Alvarez bucking the racist trend in the Latino community was her brave vote to hire David Cammasso as City Comptroller while some activists were pressuring her to vote against him for being white.
Alvarez voted against allowing police officers to take home undercover vehicles, and supported a measure by council president Patrick Blanchette to have the council take control of the day to day operations of the police department.
Alvarez Rodriguez says one of her main issues is affordable housing in the city and helping city non-profits. She has been a strong supporter of Lawrence Community Works and using city money for social and cultural programs in the city.
Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan and City Council President Patrick Blanchette
Patrick Blanchette is the city council president and has been on the council for ten years. He was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick to be a conciliator at the state’s Industrial Accident’s Board, the agency that holds court on worker’s compensation claims in Massachusetts. He has since taken a leave of absence to run for mayor.
Blanchette previously served two years as the city council vice-president, six years as president, is the former chairman of the council’s ordinance subcommittee, is the former chairman of the city’s Charter Review Committee, and a member of both the Vendor Committee and the Community Development Advisory Committee.
Blanchette is also a member of the Lawrence Democrat City Committee and a former volunteer for the Prospect Hill Little League. Blanchette is currently unemployed after failing to meet the requirements of state testing as the discipline coordinator at the Greater Lawrence Technical School.
Blanchette was fist elected to the council in 2001, the same year City Councilor Mike Sullivan ascended to the mayor’s office. Blanchette endorsed Sullivan’s opponent Isabel Melendez that year, but quickly became Sullivan’s strongest ally on the council when the election was over.
Blanchette and Sullivan worked well together at first, hashing out the details of the new $110 million dollar Lawrence High School project, renovating the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, approving the multi-million dollar water treatment plant and providing tax incentives to businesses moving to Lawrence.
A few months before Sullivan’s reelection in 2005, however, Blanchette applied for a job with the city’s workforce investment board but did not get hired because budget and finance director John Griffin did not recommend him for the job. That’s when Blanchette jumped off the Sullivan bandwagon and became his harshest critic, attacking Sullivan and Griffin both politically and personally and eventually demanding that Griffin be fired by the mayor.
Despite his wrangling with the mayor, Blanchette stood with Sullivan and his family at the mayor’s campaign headquarters on Essex Street in 2005 when Sullivan ran for re-election against Marcos Devers. There, Blanchette announced, “I hope you will join me and my family …when we vote for Mayor Michael Sullivan for reelection on Election Day.”
Within days of Sullivan’s reelection, however, Blanchette turned on Sullivan yet again, publicly attacking him and his administration. Blanchette made the Boston news when he referred to Mayor Sullivan as “Saddam Hussein” at a public meeting. After months of personal attacks and political harassment at public meetings, Blanchette eventually drove both budget and finance director John Griffin and city comptroller Jim Limperis into resigning from their jobs.
He also attacked City Attorney Jim Bowers, whom Blanchette said should be “disbarred” and threatened to go to the Board of Bar Overseers to have Bower’s license to practice law revoked because Bowers negotiated a buyout of Griffin’s contract.
Blanchette claimed Bowers had committed “criminal acts” while working for the city and placed official items on the council agenda humiliating Bowers and calling for him to be fired. Blanchette did retract his accusations a week later the public learned that the allegations Blanchette made against Bowers were simply made up.
The council president has also been the subject of controversy when it was reported that the Lawrence DPW paved High St. in front of the Blanchette family home at nearly 200% of the legally quoted price. Residents of Prospect Hill complained that High Street was paved in front of Blanchette’s family home, but the other half of High Street was never finished. DPW Director Frank McCann and his wife Andrea Traficanti-McCann have been strong political supporters of Blanchette for years.
Blanchette initially bowed out of the mayoral race when it was learned that he owed nearly $9,000 in back taxes to the IRS and had made no attempt in three years to pay of that debt. Once the controversy died down in the media however, Blanchette jumped back in the race saying he is the only candidate with the experience to run the mayor’s office.
Blanchette told The Valley Patriot during his reelection campaign two years ago, that he “believes that a civil tone needs to be brought back to Lawrence politics and he will work toward that goal for the next two years.”
Two years later however, Blanchette seems to have not only failed to bring a civil tone to Lawrence politics but set a new low standard of degrading discourse in public debate, often personally attacking the budget and finance director .
His supporters say Blanchette is only holding the Mayor Sullivan accountable for what he sees as an administration “out of control” with “no fiscal accountability” and “lacking in leadership” when it comes to the day to day operations of city hall. Blanchette was on the forefront of the Northern Essex/In-Town Mall controversy, supporting the college’s move to purchase the In-Town Mall for a multimillion dollar Health and Technology center over the objections of State Representative Willie Lantigua. He also fought to stop a land grab at the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium when the school department tried to take a parcel of Stadium property for use by Lawrence High School. Blanchette rightly brags about a newly renovated park on Prospect Hill. Though Blanchette’s lack of standards as council president directly led to the breakdown in decorum, procedure and civility at city council meetings during the numerous budget crisis’, he did refuse to support councilor Grisel Silva’s motion to cut city services by $3 million. He also fought to stop Mayor Sullivan from raising property taxes to the levy limit.
This is hero marine Dan Cotnoir’s first run for public office. He has been running Racicot Funeral Home for 19 years and was in the United States Marine Corps from 1999 – 2006.
Cotnoir’s task in Operation Iraqi Freedom was to recover the dead bodies of American Servicemen on the battlefield, often times under enemy fire. He was charged by Lawrence Police and prosecuted (persecuted?) for discharging a firearm at teenagers who were throwing rocks and bottles at his home on Broadway at 2am.
A jury found Cotnoir not guilty of any wrongdoing in the shooting. Since that time Cotnoir has taken his message of reforming the police department to the public on Boston news channels and in his campaign. He has publicly discussed his frustration with the Lawrence Police, saying they had refused to respond to continuous 911 calls from his home prior to the shooting incident. During a recent debate sponsored by Oiste, Cotnoir pledged to have a civilian review board oversee complaints against the police and said that officers who drive around using their cell phones interfere with them doing their jobs.
Cotnoir has also been very involved in Veteran’s organizations and civic groups in Lawrence and Methuen. He is a Member of Lawrence Exchange Club, the Board of Directors Holy Family Hospital Men’s Guild, VFW post 8349, AMVETS post MA29, the Marine Corps League, American Legion Post 122, and the Lawrence Knights of Columbus # 67.
Devers has served the city of Lawrence as an at-large city councilor, the council vice president, the council president and acting mayor.
He was the first Latino mayor in the history of the city.
Devers is a civil engineer, was an educator at Lawrence High School and the Greater Lawrence Technical School and taught at Santurce Community College, Santurce, Puerto Rico.
Four years ago Marcos Devers won a hotly contested primary for mayor and was the finalist against incumbent mayor Mike Sullivan.
Devers pushed hard for a GIS (geographic information) computer system, integrating all city departments and offices in the city to a centralized computer system. Devers says this system would integrate information in such a way that city inspectors, police officers, DPW and other city workers would have access to vital information to serve the public better.
Devers ran twice for state representative against Willie Lantigua, once having his name removed from the ballot over an address dispute where he mounted a sticker campaign and pulled an impressive number of votes. Devers was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick as the office manager for the Industrial Accidents Board in Lawrence, a job he resigned from to run for mayor this year.
A strong proponent of a residency requirement for all city workers, Devers says he would fight to bring back the old law requiring all city workers to move into the city within two years of being hired. The law was voted out of existence during the Patty Dowling administration but the issue has seemed to resurface during this campaign with Devers taking the lead and other candidates echoing his position.
During his brief stint as mayor, Devers investigated and identified nearly $18,000,000.00 in deficits in the city and began the process of tracking and reversing the debt. He petitioned Washington DC to designate Lawrence as a Renewal Community and has been active in dozens of private and civic organizations in the city.
Devers has a very loyal, very strong base of support throughout the city and in a field of ten that puts him on even footing with the other major candidates. Among his many accomplishments was his tireless fight to save the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium and support a $7 million bond to renovate the once crumbling structure.
DiMarca served two non-consecutive terms on the Lawrence City Council and has been involved in the community for more than 40 years. He has been an administrator at Northern Essex Community College, a teacher at Lawrence High School, the Greater Lawrence Technical High School, Merrimack College, and more recently in Medford. He is currently teaching at Lawrence High School.
DiMarca does not shy away from controversy but says that he was exonerated by the Massachusetts Ethics Commission last year after a complaint was filed over receiving a free trip to Italy from a business owner he was lobbying for. Recent votes by city councilors to restrict police officers from taking home their undercover vehicles had their origins in proposals DiMarca spearheaded during his time on the council. DiMarca is critical of Mayor Sullivan and his administration, in particular the police department and the budget and finance office in city hall.
He has long advocated a human rights commission in the city and was intimately involved in helping the ACLU two years ago when they came to Lawrence looking for police abuses to exploit. He supports a residency requirement for city workers and wants to have a civilian review committee oversee the Lawrence Police Department.
Dimarca’s biggest accomplishment (besides being able to speak more than 8 languages fluently) was his contribution to helping to save the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium and secure a bond to rehab the structure. DiMarca is the president of the Son’s of Italy, past president of Hispanic Week (Semana Hispana) and has a radio program on local radio.
Lantigua is a State Representative who has been active in city politics for at least 15 years. Lantigua started his political career managing Jose Santiago’s successful campaigns for city council in the early 90’s then successfully managing his campaign for State Representative. But a dispute erupted between Lantigua and Santiago over Representative Santiago’s decision to run for mayor in 2001. Lantigua was managing the campaign of Isabel Melendez and was so infuriated by Santiago’s betrayal that he came back the following year and defeated Santiago in his reelection for state representative.
If elected mayor Lantigua says he will keep his seat at the state house and serve as both Lawrence’s mayor and its state representative.
Lantigua has the strong support of Bill Traynor of Lawrence Community Works, who has held fundraisers for Lantigua’s mayoral bid. Lantigua has sought and secured state funding for Community Works and is one of their biggest supporters.
Lantigua has opposed Voter ID in the city, was actively involved in the federal lawsuit against the city of Lawrence which resulted in an out of court settlement that broke up school committee elections from at large voting to district representation on the committee. Lantigua has been a strong advocate for the YWCA’s rape crisis center and several other non-profit organizations in the city. He is often seen in city hall attending meetings, in particular licensing board meetings where Lantigua has been actively involved in night club licensing issues. He once accused former Licensing Commissioner (now city councilor) Roger Twomey of being a racist when Twomey inspected a Lantigua political function and cited the bar owner for illegally purchasing alcohol for the event. Twomey was exonerated by the city council which voted not to fire him but not before Lantigua had his wife appointed to the licensing board.
Lantigua brags on his website: “Earlier this year, Rep. Lantigua introduced legislation that would impose a six-month moratorium on foreclosures in Massachusetts, allowing borrowers to work with lenders to readjust the terms of unfair loans. He also sought to strengthen the state’s gun control laws by proposing increased penalties for unlawful possession of a firearm and failure to report the loss or theft of a weapon.”
A long time political activist, Payano has campaigned primarily for Marcos Devers in past elections, supporting his campaigns for council, mayor, and state representative. In this race, however, Payano joins his former ally Devers in the race to be the next mayor. He has also campaigned for major democrat candidates in state and national elections, most notably playing a large part of Niki Tsongas’ successful campaign for congress in 2007.
Payano helped organize the “May Day” rally on the Lawrence Common in favor of granting amnesty to illegal aliens and encouraged students and members of the community to take the day off to attend the rally which he characterized as supporting “immigrants”.
Payano teaches social studies at Lawrence High School and is very popular among younger voters who remember him from their days at Lawrence High. He has had a very low profile on the campaign trail and has very little money to spend on campaign material.
He cites as his top priorities if elected: reinforcing a neighborhood watch program in key areas of the city, a “Citizen and Police Advisory Committee” and capitalizing on the “green economy” by recruiting biotech companies to locate in Lawrence and find environmentally friendly ways for the city to save money and energy.
He has long been a critic of Lawrence Superintendent of Schools Wilfredo Laboy and periodically writes an opinion column for Siglo21 the Spanish language weekly newspaper.
Israel Reyes served one (two year) term on the Lawrence City Council being elected city wide. He ran for state representative unsuccessfully and has been involved in dozens of campaigns behind the scenes. He has been a mortgage broker, a developer, worked for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and is involved as an investor and former board member of the now defunct Veritas Bank.
He served on the Lawrence Planning Board and Merrimack Valley Planning Commission. Reyes says he has raised more than $80,000 for his mayoral campaign and was the very first candidate to declare for the mayor’s office. For at least two years Reyes has been knocking on doors throughout the city, putting up signs, making phone calls and raising money.
He was the first to call for Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy’s resignation but has since been reported to be under investigation in the school department scandal that has resulted in an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the Essex County District Attorney.
Reyes says he has done nothing wrong but has been ordered to testify before a grand jury looking into improprieties in the school department.
For his part, Reyes main campaign issue is jobs for city residents and using the power of the mayor’s office to help increase the number of jobs for Lawrence residents. Oddly enough Reyes says he does not and did not support the city’s residency requirement but also stated at the Oiste debate that he would enforce the law if residents put it on the ballot and it was passed by the voters.
As a city councilor Reyes was one of three councilors who voted to fire Licensing Commissioner Roger Twomey amid charges of racism by State Rep. Willie Lantgua. Reyes at the time was the candidate Lantigua was supporting at that fundraiser where Twomey found illegally purchased alcohol and alcohol illegally being consumed outside (in violation of the proprietor’s liquor license).
Reyes says that he wants to expand the effectiveness of the city’s workforce investment board and use city services to help train and educate residents for the job market. He also stresses the city’s need for a centrally located public safety building in the city merging police and fire management in one facility.
Julia Silverio was first elected into office when she defeated an incumbent Pauline Brown as the District B city councilor. It was a racially charged campaign that left bitter feelings on both sides but once Silverio took office she quickly became acclimated to the environment of city politics. She often sparred with fellow councilor Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez but was relentless in pushing her agenda for the city.
One of her biggest votes as a city councilor was on Northern Essex Community College’s bid to purchase the Intown Mall on Common Street to build a $26 million dollar Health and Technology Center. Silverio opposed the college bid in favor of a lower bidder Benny Espailatt who proposed moving his giant shoe store to the site. Silverior did play the race card accusing NECC of being racist college but has toned down her rhetoric on race issues since then. She was a strong supporter of putting the new Lawrence High School Campus in South Lawrence in order to save churches and private property on Haverhill Street (the other proposed site).
Silverio is a business owner and homeowner in the city, she runs her own travel agency on Essex Street and has been active in several community organizations in the city including: Central Catholic High School Board of Trustees, Founder of the Latino Scholarship Fund, St. Mary’s School Board of Trustees, Lawrence Public Schools, Partners in Education, Lawrence Main Streets, Merrimack Valley Community Foundation, New England Hispanic Commission for Civil Rights, Founding Member of the Lawrence Youth Commission, Founding Member of Los Trinitarios Club, Former Ladies Guild President, Hispanic Week Committee, Founding Member and Treasurer MASS Rehabilitation Commission.
Silverio was also the recipient of the YWCA Tribute to Women in Industry Award, 1986 and received the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award.
She stresses unity in her campaign saying she is the candidate who can bring together Latino and non-Latino residents of the city. She speaks both English and Spanish fluently and enjoys a large base of support among residents of North and South Lawrence. Silverio says as a small business owner herself, she knows how to use the office of the mayor to help small businesses in the city by focusing on their needs. She says as mayor she will expand workforce training and bringing together small businesses in the city to work together on streamlining city services and the city permitting process. She advocates more affordable housing in the city and supports reinstating the city’s residency requirement which would force new city employees to move into Lawrence within two years of being hired.