Rivera, Lantigua win the preliminary, setting up a rematch in November

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Jaime, Maldonado a distant third and fourth –
By Keith Eddings keddings@eagletribune.com –

LAWRENCE — Mayor Daniel Rivera and former mayor William Lantigua captured first and second place by wide margins in Tuesday’s preliminary election, burying the six other candidates in the race and setting up a rematch between two of the city’s most bitter political rivals in November.

Rivera won 4,850 votes and carried precincts A and C in North Lawrence as well as precincts E and F, which are mostly in South Lawrence. Lantigua received 3,730 votes and carried precincts B and D in North Lawrence, which have traditionally been his strongholds.

Rivera’s widest margin was in precinct E, which lifted him over the top when he defeated Lantigua — by just 81 votes — in 2013, and last night gave him a plurality of 1,023 votes over Lantigua, about equal to his overall margin citywide.

Public Works foreman Jorge Jaime gathered 1,128 votes to place a distant third but an impressive finish for a candidate who had never ran for office before. City Councilor Modesto Maldonado gathered 1,012 votes, placing fourth.

The numbers are not official.

None of the other four candidates — former city police officer William Green, financial analyst Paul Mallett, Realtor Rubin Nieves and accountant Nestor De Jesus — received more than a few hundred votes.

Rivera immediately challenged Lantigua to three debates, which if he accepts, would be a first for Lantigua. He declined to debate David Abdoo when he was first elected in 2009, declined to debate Rivera when he lost his re-election bid in 2013 and declined to attend a debate sponsored in part by The Eagle-Tribune earlier this month.

In a brief interview after rallying his supporters at the Claddagh bar, Rivera several times repeated a phrase about Lantigua that suggested the rough-and-tumble campaign that will likely unfold over the the next six weeks between two men for whom this is personal.

“The question in November is, does Lawrence want to go backwards to a dark Lantigua time or continue forward to a positive future?” Rivera said. “Every day we’re going to talk to people who voted for other candidates to get them to see that Lawrence is facing a (choice between) a bright future or the dark Lantigua past.”

Lantigua did not return phone calls.

Rivera said he would seek endorsements from all of the other six candidates in the race and said he had called Maldonado and Jaime to seek theirs just after the result of the race became clear.

Maldonado, said he would be meeting with Lantigua later Tuesday and would likely be supporting him. He has been Rivera’s most persistent foil on the City Council, where he pushed unsuccessfully for a vote no confidence in Rivera after his first year as mayor, then supported an unsuccessful effort to recall him.

“We started with the objective of replacing the mayor and I will continue working in that direction,” Maldonado said.

For Lantigua, the comeback is startling considering the string of losses he’s suffered after he was elected mayor. The first came when Kendrys Vasquez, then a freshman city councilman and now council president, knocked Lantigua out of his seat on the Democratic State Committee early in Lantigua’s term. Lantigua then lost the mayoralty to Rivera in 2013. The following year he lost his bid to take back the 16th House Essex seat that Marcos Devers won after Lantigua became mayor.

The challenges for Lantigua going forward are formidable. Among them, he has just $3,412 in his campaign account, compared to the $25,348 Rivera has in the bank. But there is a fuller context to their bottom lines: Rivera has raised and spent about $250,000 over the last several years and spent much of that trying to block Lantigua from making it to second place on Tuesday and advancing to the general election.

Beyond his lopsided financial advantage going into the general, Rivera has maintained the solid support of the state’s Democratic party establishment, including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Nikki Tsongas, who endorsed him over Lantigua four years ago and endorsed him again in this year.

Much more surprising, Gov. Charlie Baker — a Republican — made robo calls supporting Rivera over the last few days.

The election is Nov. 7.