Right to the bitter end, Lawrence Mayor Willie Lantigua went down swinging as he told reporters on the day he conceded that if he were white, he would be on the cover of Forbes or Money magazine for his financial achievements as mayor.
“Those who are not blind of conscience, as I always say, will have to conclude that we have a much better city today than when I came into office,” Lantigua said after his concession. That concession was in Spanish, on Spanish language radio, just two days after a recount showed Lantigua lost the election by 82 votes.
“We came into a financial fiasco with a deficit of almost 30 million dollars. We came in and balanced four budgets, the first one as you know very difficult, laid off police and fire, got into a lot of political problems, but since those days we balanced three more. Each one of those budgets we came out with some pluses in the water enterprise and the general fund. That’s something the city hasn’t seen for close to 25 years.”
He also pointed out that Moody’s has upgraded the city’s credit rating twice.
Near the conclusion of Lantigua’s statements to the press, he just could not resist one more chance to play the race card saying, “If my name was John Sullivan, and I looked, maybe like some of you,” he said pointing to the white reporters, “my face would be on the front page of Forbes Magazine, or Money Magazine because of what we have done here as an administration.”
What Lantigua didn’t say is that he had nothing to do with balancing those budgets. The State’s Department of Revenue was so panicked at the prospect of Lantigua running the city’s finances four years ago that they appointed a state receiver.
THE REAL STORY OF LAWRENCE’S FINANCES
That state receiver (Rob Nunes) has been in charge of the city budget since the beginning of Lantigua’s four years.
It was Rob Nunes and the Lawrence City Council that balanced the city budget over the last four years. Not Mayor Lantigua.
The state also appointed a receiver to run the school system after Lantigua, as chairman of the school committee, refused to appoint a superintendent months after firing Wilfredo Laboy.
As for Lantigua’s $30 Million deficit that he supposedly inherited in 2010, there was no $30 million deficit. If you remember, Lantigua was elected in 2009 when there was supposedly a $9.5 million deficit. That deficit occurred because the city council at the time was run by Patrick Blanchette. Blanchette refused to set the 2009 tax rate, send out the tax bills and forced the city into 30 day budget cycles.
But, the facts didn’t matter back then as Lantigua inflated the number from $9.5 million to $17.5 million in speeches he made after being elected, but prior to taking office.
By the time he took office in January of 2010, Lantigua had ballooned the number again to be a $24.5 million deficit, even though nothing new had occurred in the city’s finances in the three months prior.
That’s when Lantigua went to the legislature asking for a $35 Million bailout loan that Deval Patrick swore he wouldn’t allow, but eventually authored and approved House Bill 4421 with the help of State Representative’s David Torissi and State Senator Barry Finegold.
Even if Lantigua really had a $24.5 million deficit, he was asking for $35 million and threatening to lay off cops and firefighters, predicting chaos in the city streets if the loan was not approved.
But it was approved.
And after Lantigua and Robert Nunes got the $35 million, they proceeded to lay off 24 cops and 25 firefighters, closing a fire station and creating chaos in the city as firefighters were hurt, crime spiked and police officers themselves started to speak out.
After Lantigua had publicly called the firefighters in Lawrence “lazy”, telling the city council at an open meeting that “we pay them to sleep”, and telling the press that firefighters were likely starting the fires in Lawrence and then purposely going slow to the scenes of those fires to exacerbate fire damage. Lantigua then encouraged citizens to videotape the city’s firefighters going to and from fires and at the scene of fires so he could prove his case.
No case of firefighter misdeeds was ever proven.
FIRING CHIEF MURPHY
Also part of the fallout of the fire cuts was Fire Chief, Brian Murphy. Chief Murphy was alerting the media that the fire situation in Lawrence was getting bad. Several large fires occurred, where 10 or more other cities had to be called in to assist the LFD.
Murphy became a whistle blower, telling the public that the shortage was putting his men at risk and making it nearly impossible for them to respond adequately to the number of fires and magnitude of those fires in Lawrence under Lantigua.
Without missing a beat, Lantigua got his cronies on the Lawrence City Council to approve a home rule petition to the state legislature where Representative David Torrisi and State Senator Barry Finegold walked through a measure to remove Chief Murphy from Civil Service protection so that Lantigua could fire him.
That’s not exactly the kind of behavior that gets one on the cover of Forbes or Money Magazine.
For a man who started his political aspirations lobbing bogus allegations of racism against anyone who stood in his way twenty some-odd years ago, Willie Lantigua proved to us last month exactly why he, his administration, and his agenda are miserable failures. He just doesn’t get it.
When Lantigua took office as mayor in 2010, he could have reached out across the aisle to all the Abdoo supporters (his opponent in 2009) and reached out to the White community to finally bring both communities together to make Lawrence a better place.
Instead, he took office attacking “Anglos”, looking to settle every score, major or petty, against every person who had ever offended him. Real and perceived “enemies” were targeted, named publicly the way third world dictators do when they seize power, and proceeded to systematically, and publicly fire them in the most humiliating way possible.
One of Lantigua’s first official acts as mayor was to fire Myles Burke the city’s Inspectional Services Director, Tommy Schiavone the city’s Economic Development Director and Michael Sweeney the city’s Planning Director.
The firing of Sweeney and Burke needed a vote by the city council to be legal but while the council voted in favor of firing Burke, they voted NOT to fire Sweeney.
That didn’t matter to “I do it my way” Lantigua who had a Lawrence Police Lieutenant waiting for Sweeney when he arrived for work the next morning to escort him off city property in violation of the law. He then illegally laid off Sweeney three days later after telling the council “ I will not work with those who cause a the problem.”
For a time, Lantigua refused to give up his seat in the legislature pulling down two salaries totally more than $170,000 a year, plus benefits. He eventually did resign as a state rep. when the legislature said they wouldn’t approve the governor’s $35 Million borrowing measure unless he gave up his seat on Beacon Hill.
Lantigua decisions were colossal; he hired former Lawrence City Council President Patrick Blanchette, the person most responsible for the city’s financial deficit. He hired Lenny Degnan as his Chief of Staff. Degnan was last involved in Lawrence politics when he served failed Mayor Mary Claire Kennedy. Kennedy was the last mayor to have a fiscal control board and state receivership guarding the city’s finances.
While Blanchette has not been indicted, Degnan has, and his criminal trial is expected to come up shortly.
When Lantigua took office one of his first orders was for the city to no longer accept credit cards or checks for certain purchases, that included the city’s parking lots and garages.
He also put Just Garcia in charge of counting the money. Garcia had worked on Lantigua’s multiple campaigns and also worked for him when Lantigua was a state representative. Federal agents followed Garcia and caught him red handed depositing money collected from the city’s parking garages into Lantigua’s campaign account. Garcia has been arrested and charged for his crime but to date Lantigua and his campaign cohorts have yet to be held to account.
In the last four years, Lantigua has so many violations of campaign finance laws that he was fined by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance for accepting illegal cash, corporate checks, checks from donors above the amount allowed by law, failing to file four years of campaign finance reports, misleading information on his reports and more. Lantigua’s campaign shenanigans are so numerous that State Representative Diana DiZoglio says she had him in mind when she had her campaign reform bill passed last month. DiZoglio’s bill would prohibit any candidate from being on the ballot if they have outstanding finance reports or unpaid fines for previous campaign violations.
Then there are the forged signatures on Lantigua’s campaign nomination papers both in 2009 and 2013, populating city jobs with unqualified friends and family, and his heavy handedness with the police department.
DEPUTY CHIEF BONILLA
One of the more egregious actions Lantigua took upon arriving as mayor was to elevate former campaign manager Melix Bonilla from sergeant at the Police Department, over the ranks of lieutenant and captain, and named him deputy chief.
He then took most of Chief Romero’s job duties away from him and put those job responsibilities under the control of Bonilla and ordered that Bonilla answer directly to Lantigua himself, cutting Romero directly out of the loop. Bonilla has also been indicted.
In the last four years of Lantigua’s reign, the racial tensions between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, and Latinos and Whites have heightened. Violent crime has increased, gang activity has saturated neighborhoods where there was once progress being made, fire response and emergency services have decreased, quality of life issues have worsened, businesses have closed and fled the city, and the department of public works has been incapable of handling the city’s infrastructure problems.
Add to all that Lantigua’s refusal to comply with public records laws, his rehiring of the DiAdamo Law firm to handle the city’s worker’s compensation claims and then concealing their bills from the public despite orders from the Secretary of State’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and two different judges at Lawrence Superior Court.
I could write a book on all the shenanigans Lantigua has pulled off over the last four years, and a few follow up books on the shenanigans he was involved with prior to being elected mayor of Lawrence.
Some people say, ‘Why bother? He lost and he is gone come January, you won’t have Willie Lantigua to kick around anymore.’
I say it’s important because there’s one thing I know for sure about Willie Lantigua, the man. He is not going away, and he will be back. Next time he will be back stronger, angrier and with a whole new set of scores to settle.
When that happens, it’s important for people to remember what happened the last time Lantigua held a position of power and trust. It’s important to remember all the people whose lives he destroyed, the careers he ended, the corruption he fostered (and that the feds believe he took part in), the damage he did to the people of Lawrence, and fleecing of the state taxpayers who are stuck with the bill for all of it.