LAWRENCE—Daniel Rivera defeated Mayor William Lantigua by 81 votes after elections officials hand-counted more than 15,000 ballots today in the hotly contested Lawrence mayoral race, broading the margin of his victory.
Lantigua refused to concede, however, saying that too many votes were in question.
Rivera had led Lantigua by just 58 votes on Nov. 5. Today, both candidates had stood soberly in the gym as counters opened gray plastic containers that had been under police guard since the election.
The process, which was open to the public, took more than six hours and will be the final decision, unless one of the candidates challenges the outcome in court. The Secretary of State’s office and campaign volunteers observed each ballot count.
Both candidates had said this morning they were hoping for the best.
“It’s the democratic process,” said Lantigua as he watched counters at folding tables from behind orange cones, along with other members of the public. “It is what it is. Let it be clear.”
Rivera said, “I think at the end of the thing, not much will change. The will of the voters on Nov. 5 will be certified.”
The recount process began early this morning, when police loaded the ballots, in containers that had been sealed in a vault at City Hall, into the city’s SWAT vehicle and transported them to the South Lawrence East Educational Complex.
In the school gymnasium, serious-faced ballot counters sat at about 20 beige folding tables enclosed by orange cones on the basketball court. Observers for each campaign hovered over each table as counters tally each ballot by hand.
Occasionally, an observer called out, “Challenge!”
If observers objected to the way a ballot is tallied, they raised the issue with the Board of Registrars.
Lantigua, a longtime former state representative, was elected the city’s first Latino mayor in 2009. But his term was quickly mired in controversy and several top aides have been indicted on public corruption charges. Lantigua has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
A longtime Democrat, Lantigua looked with dismay today at seasoned operatives from his own party helping Rivera, including former state party chairman John Walsh, who resigned last month to run Governor Deval Patrick’s political-action committee, and Roger Lau, a top aide to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who took the unusual step of endorsing Rivera, and newly elected Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu.
Rivera is also a Democrat, but Lantigua has been active for decades in helping get out the vote in this mostly Latino city of 77,000. Lantigua said he helped Warren prevail in Lawrence.
“This is local... It’s supposed to be nonpartisan,” Lantigua, 58, said, glancing at Walsh as he stood over a counting table. “He’s representing the establishment that we changed in 2009.”
Rivera, 42, is a city councilor and Gulf War veteran who has had a rocky relationship with some city unions over the cost of their contracts. He swiftly declared victory on Nov. 5, though the final tally has not been made official.