Opponents Call For Resignation Of Under-Fire Lawrence Mayor

Download Audio

The Boston Globe has run a number of stories recently suggesting the mayor of Lawrence is under state and federal investigation for corruption. There are a number of controversies surrounding the mayor and it could fuel a citizen campaign to recall him.

There are at least two ways to look at William Lantigua. If you believe his critics, he's a bully. An egomaniac. Corrupt.

If you believe Lantigua, and his supporters, the mayor is just doing his job — making tough decisions at a tough time — and paying the price.

When Lantigua was elected a year and a half ago, Lawrence was about to collapse. The city had a $24 million deficit, and outsiders were urging the state to take over.

A Lantigua Supporter Changes His Tune

Edwin Rodriguez thought Lantigua could fix things, and so did eight of his family members.

"We wanted a Latin American person in the government and we had hopes with him, and he ran a good campaign," Rodriguez said.

When William Lantigua was elected a year and a half ago, Lawrence was about to collapse. The city had a $24 million deficit, and outsiders were urging the state to take over.

But now Rodriguez, an evangelical minister, is one of Lantigua's biggest critics. He's heading up the campaign to remove him from office.

"The image of the city has to change. We don't want him there. We feel bad, even to mention him," he said.

That's because of the controversies that have dogged Lantigua since he took office, Rodriguez said. Like when Lantigua tried to keep his job as a state representative when he took office as mayor.

"We are in America. He has the politics of the third world. And we don't like that. We don't like that. The way of thinking of William Lantigua is of a totalitarian government. And he doesn't know how to govern in America."

"People cannot cope with the idea of me being mayor," Lantigua said. "They are not happy about the fundamental changes I made already, so far. And they are afraid of those I'll make in the future."

Lantigua is right. It's the changes he's made that bother Rodriguez, not so much Lantigua's personality or behavior.

"So, he promised taxes are going down, the assessed value of the properties is going to change. No. Taxes went up. Garbage went up," Rodriguez said.


But considering the problems that were facing Lawrence when he was running, the incredible deficit, why would you have thought anyone would lower taxes? "Why would you have believed that?" I asked Rodriguez. "It seems impossible that anyone would have lowered taxes in that situation."

"Yes, but he took a loan of more than $30 million to pay for whatever it was in red," Rodriguez replied.

Mayor Lantigua's Defense

The state allowed Lawrence to borrow up to $35 million from private banks. But that wasn't enough to balance the budget, so Lantigua raised taxes and fees and laid off around 70 firefighters and police officers, which touched off an ugly battle with those departments.

"When you lay people off you upset a lot of people," Lantigua said.

Lantigua hasn't helped matters by being confrontational, even antagonistic. Last year, after hearing complaints about slow firefighters, Lantigua recruited citizen film crews to follow them and document their response times. I asked him if his style might be part of his problem.

"Why, because I'm not a puppet? Because I don't get scared about people trying to manipulate me to try to keep me quiet. Yeah, that most likely contributes to some of these innuendos," Lantigua said. "Because some of these people saying things are people that at one time or another, I was not able to please them. And I'm going to continue to be myself.

"I told people if you want me to be somebody else because I'm the mayor, then you elected the wrong person. I'm going to be myself."

Allegations Of Corruption

But none of these things may matter as much as the suggestion that Lantigua is corrupt. According to the Boston Globe's unnamed sources, state and federal authorities are investigating how Lantigua controls certain industries in town. Like which towing companies work for the city and who can drive a taxi.

"No one even knows if there is an investigation. People can come. Any agency. I'll answer any question. I'm an open book. I need people to understand that none of the allegations are true," he said.

Many of Lantigua's supporters, thought, are unfazed.

Adrian De La Cruz works at a tailoring shop. He said there's starting to be progress in Lawrence.

"After all of the trouble from the last mayor, who drove the city into such debt, I believe we're moving ahead. The streets are clean. William is doing a great job," De La Cruz said.

These two competing visions of Lantigua may go head-to-head. If Rodriguez gathers enough signatures in his recall campaign, the citizens of Lawrence can decide which one is the real Lantigua.


This program aired on April 27, 2011.


More from WBUR

Listen Live