Lantigua critics call new website intimidating

By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / August 17, 2011

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Opponents of Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua are blasting a pro-Lantigua website for posting a list of residents who signed a recall petition, calling the move an intimidation tactic.

Over the weekend, a searchable database was added to the website (Spanish for “I do not sign’’) that lists the names and addresses of more than 4,000 people who signed the petition. The website is meant to combat efforts to recall the mayor, who is being investigated by federal authorities on allegations of corruption and by state authorities on possible campaign finance violations.

While the submitted petition is a public record - anyone can obtain a copy from the Lawrence city clerk - petition organizers say the database makes it easy for the mayor’s supporters to retaliate against those who signed the document.

“We’ve been getting oodles of e-mails and calls from people saying that they’re concerned or afraid,’’ said Anthony DiFruscia, one of the lawyers representing It’s Your Right, the group heading up the recall effort.

DiFruscia said he received a call from a Lawrence police officer who fears retribution from the mayor for signing the petition.

A group of about 50 volunteers worked for a month to collect thousands of signatures to force a recall vote, but they came up short. Though they gathered 5,483 signatures, 1,117 were invalidated by Lawrence’s Election Division, leaving the petitioners 866 signatures short of what they needed to initiate a recall.

Yesterday, the members of It’s Your Right withdrew the entire petition, saying that an error on the part of William Maloney, the city clerk, invalidated the document. They plan to start the process again from scratch.

Wayne Hayes, one of the organizers of It’s Your Right, said he has received about 20 phone calls and e-mails since the database went online over the weekend from people who expressed anxiety because their names are on the petition.

“There’s a real fear from residents that people will start coming to their houses and trashing them or assaulting them,’’ Hayes said. “The fear in their voices is heartbreaking.’’

DiFruscia said the group is considering contacting Attorney General Martha Coakley and the US attorney’s office in order to take legal action.

Lantigua did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

The website explains that the database is meant to root out forgeries in the petition. Lawrence residents who support the mayor can easily check to see if their names were falsely added to the petition.

But DiFruscia said there is a difference between making the petition available for someone to come in and look at, and posting the names online in a database that is easy to search by name or address.

“This just isn’t the American way. This is not democracy as we understand it,’’ DiFruscia said.

Lantigua is a former state representative. When he was elected mayor of Lawrence in 2009, he became the first Latino mayor ever in Massachusetts.

Martine Powers can be reached at