Lantigua victory masterfully done – now the real work begins


By: Robert O’Koniewski – November, 2009

The votes are in and Lawrence finally has met demographic expectations to attain its first popularly elected mayor of Hispanic descent.

We will not use the trite adjective of “historic” to describe State Representative William Lantigua’s victory over District E City Councilor David Abdoo, as that has really been beaten to death.

What needs to be said, however, is that, in the face of accusations of all kinds of voter fraud and other electoral chicanery, kudos go out to Mr. Lantigua for his impressive victory over the first-term city councilor.

Mr. Lantigua was able to ultimately capitalize on a decade’s worth of grassroots building by various Hispanic leaders in Lawrence, primarily Isabel Melendez, who strove to register any and all living, breathing Hispanic Lawrencians.

After Ms. Melendez came so close to being the first Hispanic mayor in Lawrence in the 2001 election, Hispanic leaders stepped up their efforts with the hope of capitalizing on the 2001 Melendez euphoria, albeit one rooted in defeat. Although the implosion of the Devers campaign in 2005 would put off that celebration for another time, the demographics were there for a Hispanic who could build the necessary effort to capitalize on the fact that a 70% Hispanic city finally reached the point of having more than 51% of its voters being of Hispanic background.

If you look at the numbers from this year’s race, you really have to give Mr. Lantigua credit for his electoral accomplishment.

Four years ago, Mayor Sullivan was re-elected with 6,000+ votes to Marcos Devers’ 3,900. This year, Mr. Abdoo pulled basically the same number (6,057) as Sullivan did, but Mr. Lantigua was able to layer an additional 3,100 votes on top of the Devers 2005 tally. No easy feat when one looks at the Lantigua vote being built one house at a time.

I always viewed the 18,000 or so Hispanic registered voters in our city as the equivalent of Cold War “sleeper” agents, waiting to answer the call when finally needed to act. And this time Mr. Lantigua pushed all the right buttons. Voters, registered for one reason or another over the years but were never really asked to participate fully in the process, literally were dragged from their homes to cast a ballot for Mr. Lantigua last month.

Rep. Lantigua himself on election day was walking predominately Hispanic neighborhoods and lighting the fire under his voters to get them to the polls.

As one who has always been a student of the mechanics of the election process, what Mr. Lantigua did, from a purely scientific perspective, was nothing short of incredible. If it was not for his intense, very personal, election day get-out-the-vote efforts within the Hispanic neighborhoods, the result most likely would have been different.

On another front, the Lantigua mayoral success also led to the election, (for now until any recounts are completed), of six Hispanics to the City Council (out of 9 seats), including in District A as the replacement for Council President Patrick Blanchette, who lost in his bid to be mayor in the September 22nd preliminary election.

What will be most interesting about is the question of who will now be elected as the council president and run the legislative alternative to the Lantigua executive office. One thing you can say about Patrick Blanchette is he was able to set an agenda for the City Council and lead them in a single direction toward a common goal.

One may not like what his goals were (roadblocks, obstructing Mayor Sullivan’s progress and micromanaging the executive branch) – and I for one have serious issues with his ultimate goals and the style he demonstrated – but, again, from a purely scientific perspective, Mr. Blanchette displayed active leadership as a legislative leader during some very difficult times.

The new Council will have (as returnees) at-large Councilors Frank Moran, Roger Twomey, and District B Councilor Grisel Silva. Common sense would say that the council presidency should be Mr. Moran’s for the asking, but I cannot see him placing himself in any type of leadership role where he would potentially clash with his good friend Mayor-elect Lantigua. On the other hand, if anyone would be capable of standing up to Lantigua over the next years, Moran may be the only one capable of doing so successfully.

Therefore, just who will be able to step forward and cobble together the necessary votes to hold the gavel for the next two years? Newly elected Dan Rivera? Former councilor Marc Laplante?

Whomever that person is, the committee appointments they make, including the chair and contingent of the all-important Budget and Finance Committee, will go a long way toward telling us whether this Council will be able to work constructively with Mayor Lantigua and his finance team, along with any resources from the state such as an audit team from the Department of Revenue, … perhaps even a receiver, to right the city’s financial ship.

With a $10 million deficit one-third of the way through the fiscal year, Lawrence needs much more than the usual Mark Andrews smoke and mirrors and prestidigitation to get us in the black.

Right now, we probably are looking at substantial employee cuts from the lame duck Mayor Sullivan with the assent of the equally lame duck city council.

Time is of the essence. A plan needs to be in place by December 31 for the city to have a set tax rate and tax bills sent out to property owners.

Regardless, the mess that Mayor-elect Lantigua and the new city council is inheriting surely was not anticipated on the horizon when they announced their candidacies nine months ago.

The easy part – getting elected – is done. The hard part will come in early January when all the pieces are in place at City Hall.

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