Lawrence, Massachusetts mayor says Sununu doesn't understand 'what he's talking about'
CONCORD — One day after Gov. Chris Sununu pointed fingers at a northern Massachusetts city as the source of much of the drugs flowing into New Hampshire that are feeding the state’s heroin and opioid crisis, that city’s mayor fired back Thursday, saying “I don’t think he (Sununu) understands what he’s talking about.”
New Hampshire's governor and Lawrence, Massachusetts Mayor Dan Rivera held a phone conversation later on Thursday, and after the call Sununu said in a statement "I am encouraged by my conversation with the Mayor and have invited him to join me in developing a plan that will find solutions to this problem in both of our communities.”
The war of words between Sununu and Rivera started Wednesday.
"It's coming from Lawrence," Sununu said that morning as he spoke at a breakfast hosted by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. "Eighty-five percent of the fentanyl in this state is coming straight out of Lawrence, Massachusetts."
Sununu then highlighted a meeting he had with fellow New England governors when they met in Washington DC this past weekend for the National Governors Association annual winter meetings.
"I sat down with (Massachusetts Governor) Charlie Baker and all the governors from the New England regions and said we're going to cross borders, you better get ready," Sununu said on Wednesday. "I'm working with the DEA in Bedford, working with the DEA in Boston, our state police, their state police."
Sununu then vowed that “we’re going in.”
“We're going to get tough on these guys, and I want to scare every dealer that wants to come across that border. We're not giving dealers nine months on parole and probation anymore. We're putting them away for the five, 10 and 15 years that they deserve,” New Hampshire’s first GOP governor in a dozen years added.
Rivera: Sununu ‘still hasn’t called me.’
Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Rivera fired back.
“Just like the President is finding out that health care is complicated, I think that the governor is going to find out that this is a complicated issue,” Rivera said.
Rivera, a Democrat and former Lawrence city councilor who was elected mayor in 2013, added “I’m not sure that he meant to threaten the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but he did.”
And Rivera also said “I know that Gov. Charlie Baker and him (Sununu) are going to get together and have a conversation. And our governor is supporting us 100%.”
As for Sununu’s claim that 85% of the fentanyl entering New Hampshire comes from Lawrence, Rivera pointed to reporters and said “I would ask you guys to ask him where he got that number from. I don’t know if it’s a true number.”
The mayor added “I think the problem is if you think like ‘oh you snuff out what’s happen in Lawrence, it will all go away.’ I know he’s only been on the job 60 day, but the reality is it’s like water, it will find another place to go.”
Rivera said he the governor on Wednesday but has yet to hear from Sununu.
“I called his office twice now and he still hasn’t called me. So I’m shocked about that, because he made a big statement about my community and I think at the least he could give me the decency of a call,” Rivera added.
“If I had a conversation with the man, we could hammer it out,” Rivera offered. “I’m an easy going guy. He’s a smart guy.”
The two did end up speaking on Thursday afternoon.
In a statement, Sununu said “this afternoon I spoke with Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. The Mayor and his local law enforcement personnel have been doing a good job on this issue, but we must recognize this is a cross-border problem that requires cross-border solutions. It has no geographic boundaries and it remains incumbent upon all of us to come together and work collaboratively across our borders along with federal, state and local law enforcement."
But Sununu's statement didn't offer any evidence of his initial claim that Lawrence was the point of origin of 85% of the fentanyl entering New Hampshire.
Lawrence is a sanctuary city, and Sununu in his Wednesday comments said that “sanctuary city issues” in Massachusetts are having a direct impact on his state.
Law enforcement officials have often pointed to Lawrence as a base of operations for drug crimes in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Rivera said that “since August of 15, we’ve given five people up to the federal government who were here illegally, who committed crimes. The police have the statistics. So it’s not like we’re harboring criminals.”
“We have always worked hard to make it an inhospitable place to buy and sell drugs. That is our number priority for our police department in Lawrence,” Rivera added.
Later Thursday, Baker weighed in on the war of words.
Speaking with reporters, the Massachusetts governor said "I do view this as a problem that affects us all and I think singling out a single community or a single state is not accurate. And it doesn’t represent what the vast majority of us believe to be the case.”
Thursday afternoon a top Granite State Democrat criticized Sununu.
"Instead of antagonizing key regional partners in our collective fight to combat the devastating effects of the opioid crisis, Governor Sununu should be fighting for our state's successful Medicaid expansion program which has helped over 100,000 Granite Staters gain access to mental health and substance abuse treatment," said state Senate Democratic leader Jeff Woodburn in a statement.
"New Hampshire needs steady and serious leadership from the Governor's office that focuses on a holistic approach to solving this public health crisis, not reckless, cavalier comments," he added.
Lawrence, Massachusetts Mayor Dan Rivera speaks with reporters, on March 2, 2107