By: Tom Duggan, June, 2011
With several law enforcement agencies investigating the finances and political dealings of Lawrence Mayor Willie Lantigua, and the Boston media finally waking up to his political shenanigans, the question most people are asking is: can Lantigua survive?
Let me start by saying that I’ve known and studied the political genius of Willie Lantigua for about twenty years now.
I’ve watched him go from a gadfly in city hall who cried racism at the drop of a hat (not much has changed on that front) to political king maker behind the scenes who ran slates of candidates at election time, most of whom won because of his expertise.
He went from being laughed at to being feared. From being dismissed, to being sought out by the power brokers in The Valley long before becoming mayor.
How Lantigua came to power
Willie Lantigua created City Councilor Jose Santiago. He recruited Jose, ran his campaign, and through his efforts pushed Santiago to
the State House as a State Representative.
I worked on several of those campaigns and watched as Willie laughed at conventional wisdom which said his candidate couldn’t win over an immensely popular, white incumbent Representative M. Paul Ianucciello.
Lantigua always flew under the radar and he would raise money by putting empty jars in shops and bodegas all over Latino neighborhoods in Lawrence for people to put their loose change in. Change he later collected and used for campaigns he was working on.
While other politicians were raising money at $50 per person fund raisers and spending that money on radio commercials, newspaper ads and mailings, Willie was getting volunteers to run off Xerox copies of hand made fliers where they worked. He was getting neighborhood kids to drop them in people’s doors to save postage and buying them pizza in return with all that change he was collecting in shops and bodegas.
Willie Lantigua spent years doing favors for people and refused to accept anything in return, knowing someday that all the good will he had built up in the community would pay off.
He slowly earned a reputation, especially in the Latino community, as a guy who could get anything done, no matter what.
Eventually, he turned on his cretion, State Representative Jose Santiago and successfully ran against him, given that most of Santiago’s supporters were really supporters of Lantigua.
In a nutshell, that is how Willie Lantigua came to power.
And once he achieved that power, he was swift and brutal with anyone who stood in his way.
Candidates or elected officials who were his best friends and confidants one day, would only need to disagree with him once to find themselves out of politics, out of a job and sometimes even out of the city by the time Lantigua was done destroying them behind the scenes.
As a state representative he curried favor with non-profits, night club owners, The Secretary of State, the Attorney General, The Essex County DA, The Governor, and anyone else who could help him at a later date when he needed them.
So why am I giving you this readers digest version of how Willie Lantigua operates? What does this have to do with the question at hand: “can Lantigua survive the media and law enforcement onslaught?”
The Answer – The Lantigua Machine
The answer is, Willie Lantigua is not just a man, or a single politician who was lucky enough to win an election.
Wilile Lantigua is a machine. A machine he always keeps well greased. Democrats who want to get elected at the state level know they need Lantigua’s guaranteed block of votes in Lawrence to do so, and in return he always gets a heads up when trouble is coming. He always seems to be ahead of the curve.
And it’s evident by the silence of Secretary of State Bill Galvin when election fraud was alleged against Lantigua year after year.
It’s evident by the silence of Attorney General Martha Coakley (who ran her last campaign out of Lantigua’s office on Essex Street) and it’s evident by the crickets we’ve heard coming out of Essex County DA Jon Blodget’s office.
But with all the favor’s Lantigua has banked throughout the years, there is one thing he didn’t count on and in my view, till hasn’t take seriously enough.
Willie Lantigua has underestimated the integrity of the Lawrence Police, (some of whom have silently watched him for years).
He taunts federal law enforcement officials thumbing his nose at them, while professing his innocence and honesty, all the while continuing his law breaking.
Can Willie Lantigua survive?
Vegas odds say no.
He has arrogantly flaunted his misdeeds in public and even after learning of law enforcement investigations has not changed his behavior one bit.
But, remember, without a recall petition by the voters to remove him, there is nothing in the Lawrence City Charter that says he must resign or can be removed if he is indicted or even if he is convicted and serving time in jail.
Personally speaking, Lantigua seems to be on borrowed time, as it looks like the feds are closing in with real evidence of real wrongdoing.
But, politically speaking Willie Lantigua could very well be charged with a crime and be out on bail and there is nothing anyone can do to make him step down.
Sure he would suffer financially, he could lose his freedom temporarily, but he would still be the mayor of Lawrence, continuing to bring shame on a once proud city.
And make no mistake about it. If Lantigua were to be indicted and convicted of a crime tomorrow, he would refuse to resign as mayor and serve out the rest of his term collecting his $100,000+ mayors salary (with benefits) while sitting in a jail cell.
On top of all that, there’s a very real chance that the majority of the people who voted for him in the last election would vote for him again, whether he is sitting in a jail cell or not.
So, unless the feds have proof of something so serious that Willie faces life in prison, odds are that when all this is over, Willie Lantigua will do just fine and will still be working on his ultimate goal of becoming President of the Dominican Republic.
After covering him for more than 20 years, my money says he will one day achieve that goal.