Around two dozen Dominican men sit around tables at a park behind Lawrence’s City Hall. They’re playing dominoes and keeping score in Spanish. They’re concentrating on the game, until you mention the mayoral election.

“Long live Willie Lantigua a thousand and one times,” says Pablo Rodriguez in Spanish.

“Lantigua is good for nothing,”says Papi Bermudez.

He’s voting for the incumbent, Dan Rivera.

“He’s the best thing to happen here. He’s working well,” says Bermudez.

And then the two men devolve into an argument about which man – Lantigua or Rivera – fixed the street they’re standing on.

This election is about who’s the best candidate to fix Lawrence’s many problems. Since both men have been mayor, they both have records for voters to consider.

On one side, you have the former mayor, Lantigua, a former state representativeand the first Latino mayor elected in the state. On the other side is Rivera, the current mayor. He was a city councilor before beating Lantigua by 81 votes four years ago. He’s touting a record of getting things done.

On a recent morning, Rivera and a dozen local and state officials stood in front of an old, abandoned train bridge in Lawrence. Over the years, Rivera said, nearly 100 trucks or buses have hit the low-hanging bridge.

“A hallmark of the four years that we’ve been mayor, is to go after problems that are generational problems,” Rivera said.  “Things that people look at and say, ‘Why isn’t that fixed?”

Rivera plans to remove the bridge and replace it with a walking path tall enough to accommodate trucks and buses.

Since becoming mayor, Rivera has added 23 police officers and developed blighted land. He’s proud to be bringing the first Starbucks store to Lawrence, where barista jobs offer a living wage.

“We’ve changed the way people think about our city,” Rivera said. “You never heard about Lawrence, but when you did it was nothing good. People were out there badmouthing us in hushed tones. Talking about 'Yeah, don’t go there. There’s nothing there for you.' Today, we have people cheering for us. Cheering for us in a real way.”

This is a swipe at Lantigua. The city lost a lot of outside support while he was mayor. Three of Lantigua’s aides were indicted and his chief of staff went to jail for pressuring a city contractor to donate a trash truck to a city in the Dominican Republic, where many Lawrence residents are from. Lantigua was never convicted of wrongdoing and still has strong support in this city.

Much of his support is in the Dominican community of Lawrence, where Lantigua is treated like a celebrity.

Lantigua won’t debatehis opponent, his campaign websitedoesn’t work, and he wouldn’t return WGBH News' calls or texts requesting an interview. But he does appear regularly on two Spanish-language radio programs in Lawrence.

During these appearances, which Lantigua broadcasts on Facebook Live, Lantigua addresses listeners as familia, or family. He talks about everything from his most important life lessons to his love of bachata, a type of music popular in the Dominican Republic.  

He calls his campaign “a project to rescue the city of Lawrence from Mr. Rivera, who is irresponsible and has abandoned the city.”

Lantigua has argued that crime has increased since Rivera took office. City numbers don’t reflect that, however. There have been some high-profile, grisly murders in Lawrence that have scared residents. And the opioid crisis has hit the city hard.

The political establishment – including Gov. Charlie Baker – has chosen who they think would best handle these problems. They’ve lined up behind Dan Rivera. The city’s unions are split between the two candidates. That’s one reason this race is closer than expected.