The ultimate Lawrence grudge match

Can William Lantigua get old job back?

Anyone who thought they’d seen the last of William Lantigua on Beacon Hill should pay close attention on Election Day. The former mayor is back on the campaign trail in Lawrence running for his old state representative seat, which is held by his arch nemesis, Rep. Marcos Devers.

Lantigua’s campaign effectively began when he lost the mayor’s race to Dan Rivera last year after a bitter election season and a state-monitored recount. Devers, the third-place finisher in the mayoral primary, threw his support to Rivera, who won by only 81 votes.

The former mayor’s four tumultuous years at City Hall were marred by corruption investigations that took down close confidants and exonerated others. Lantigua’s sometimes bizarre behavior alienated some residents, while many people cheered him on.

This current contest is the latest chapter in the long-running Devers-Lantigua grudge match. The race marks the third time that the two men have battled over the 16th Essex seat.

Lantigua poses a formidable challenge to Devers. The former mayor remains popular and still commands a strong get-out-the-vote machine that rivals the one that Rivera pulled together for his win. But there’s a critical twist to the latest clash: Long-time city councilor Roger Twomey, a Republican, is also in the race.

The Lawrence political scene is complex. The north side of the city is largely Latino; most whites live in south Lawrence. To get the state representative’s seat in this three-man race, the winner must capture a majority of the Latino vote as well as a significant portion of the white vote.

The popular Twomey finished first among the at-large city council candidates last year. He did well north of the Merrimack River and could peel off some Latino votes. But the greater threat to Devers is that Twomey will siphon off white votes that might have otherwise gone to the incumbent state rep if Twomey was not in the race. Twomey lives in south Lawrence.

The 84-year-old Twomey said he initially had no intention of seeking higher office. He is proud of his seven-year stint on city council and six on the licensing board. But Twomey changed his mind after a group approached him at the Republican state convention earlier this year. They asked if he’d be interested in running for the state rep seat. Twomey declined to identify the individuals involved.

“My two opponents in the race are Latino; I am a Caucasian and they would most likely split the vote in the north part of the city,” he said. “I thought that was a positive thing, too.”

Twomey’s decision puzzles former state representative David Torrisi, whose sister Lisa is chief of staff to Mayor Rivera, who is backing Devers. “I don’t discount his desire to serve. I discount his mathematical skills about his ability to win,” he said. “I don’t think the votes are there.”

Devers said that “wise” voters will back him. “The city is breathing clean air with Willie Lantigua out of the government,” he said. “This is a clear fight between Willie Lantigua and [me].”

His view of Twomey’s candidacy is simple. “A vote for Twomey is a vote for Lantigua.”

Twomey has an equally succinct retort. “It’s a boldface lie,” he said. “I’m in it to win it.”

While Devers and Twomey trade barbs, Lantigua is doing what he does best: campaigning.

Having attained pariah status in the state Democratic Party, Lantigua is running as an independent. Even so, campaign signs have popped up around Lawrence proclaiming “Democrat- Lantigua.”

He’s opened up his Spanish-language-only news media circle to English language newspapers such as The Bay State Banner, which ran an interview with the former mayor earlier this month. (An intermediary initially indicated that Lantigua would speak to Commonwealth, but he did not respond to follow-up requests for comment.)

The contest is a major political test for Mayor Rivera, who showed some political muscle in September by helping deliver Lawrence for attorney general candidate Warren Tolman in this year’s Democratic primary. Lawrence was one of only four communities to back Tolman in his losing battle against Maura Healey.

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Marc Laplante, a city councilor and a longtime Lantigua critic, said going after his old state representative seat plays to Lantigua’s strengths as a Lawrence campaigner.

“This is the seat he is comfortable with,” he said. “The question voters are asking is, ‘Do we want Lantigua back’ and not whether Marcos is doing a good job.”