Globe Editorial

In Lawrence, Lantigua should focus on his record, not rivals

August 20, 2011

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LAWRENCE MAYOR William Lantigua, facing a determined group of fellow citizens who want him out office, would do better to defend his record - from the troubling allegations against him to his largely praiseworthy stewardship of city finances - rather than fan more discord in one of Massachusetts’ most troubled cities.

A recall petition has failed for now. But rather than seize the moment and show some humility and maturity, Lantigua instead reacted with pettiness and a desire for revenge.

He called “It’s Your Right,’’ the group behind the failed recall petition, “sore losers.’’ A website that supports the mayor also listed some of the people who signed the recall petition, in what Lantigua’s opponents view as an effort to intimidate them.

Lantigua, who was born in the Dominican Republic, became the first Latino mayor in Massachusetts when he was elected in 2009. Almost from the day he took office, he was engulfed by controversy, including ongoing state and federal investigations into possible abuse of power.

In June, state campaign finance officials subpoenaed billing records from at least six restaurants and clubs in the Lawrence area, as part of a probe into Lantigua’s fund-raising. Lantigua allegedly held at least 15 campaign events at restaurants and clubs over the past three years, for which he reported no expenses for food, music, or the hall. State law requires that candidates detail all donations, either cash or services, and bans contributions by individuals of more than $500. Businesses are barred from donating.

Other alleged irregularities involve his girlfriend, who until recently served as his campaign treasurer, even though she was barred by law from filling that position because she is a public employee. Federal prosecutors are also investigating whether Lantigua’s administration has overseen the illegal shipment of city and private vehicles from Massachusetts to the Dominican Republic, including surplus undercover police vehicles and a school bus.

Despite these charges, Lantigua is steering Lawrence in the direction of fiscal stability. His political universe may be out of whack, but he has helped to balance the budget of a city that was on the brink of bankruptcy last year. And the Patrick administration doesn’t appear worried about its $35 million in loan guarantees to the city, believing that Lantigua is a responsible steward.

Still, the investigations against him won’t be going away soon. Neither will Lantigua’s opponents. After failing to get the requisite number of valid signatures, they say they plan to launch a new recall petition drive.

In the meantime, the mayor can either spend his time plotting against his political enemies, or get to work and try to change some minds about his leadership abilities. It all depends on what Lantigua puts first, his ego or his city.