Adrian Walker

Heating up more trouble

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / May 16, 2011

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Finally, one of the many unanswered questions about embattled Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence can be crossed off the list. We now know where he lives — with his girlfriend.

We also know something about the (usually) mundane matter of their heating bills. The Eagle Tribune of Lawrence reported that his significant other, city employee Lorenza Ortega, was collecting a government heat subsidy this past winter. Given their combined household income of $145,000 a year, she and the mayor do not qualify for assistance, which is supposed to go to poor families.

Even before this revelation, Lantigua had not been having the best of years. He is being investigated by government at virtually all levels, his questionable conduct having touched off federal and state probes, as well as contributing to a long-running feud with his own police department. (The fuel-assistance matter prompted yet another investigation.)

You could have guessed that something was wrong early in Lantigua’s tenure, when he claimed to live at City Hall.

In response to his latest troubles, Lantigua tossed his girlfriend under the bus. He issued a statement pleading ignorance about the subsidy. He also said that he would return to “the pressing, critical needs facing the city.’’ Um, Mr. Mayor, right now you are the biggest problem facing Lawrence.

Lantigua’s utterly disastrous administration has been terrible news for one of the state’s most-troubled cities, right from the start. A charismatic state representative when he was elected mayor, he initially refused to resign from his legislative seat, claiming he could serve in both offices at once. He was eventually forced to give up his spot on Beacon Hill.

Then came the probes: Both the FBI and the Essex district attorney’s office have been looking into his affairs. They are especially interested in his relationships with companies that are regulated by the city, like towing companies and nightclubs.

Then, of course, there was the recent story about a Lantigua critic, Antonio Arevalo, who was beaten by a bouncer who referred to him as a snitch. The bouncer admitted to beating Arevalo but denied it was prompted by Lantigua. Lantigua has also been accused of filing a false police report, stemming from his claim that a car tried to run him over.

But back to the issue of Lantigua’s address. When he ran for the Legislature in 2008, opponent Marcos Devers insisted that Lantigua no longer lived in the district. Lantigua ducked questions about where he lived for years, before revealing last month that he lived with Ortega. There’s something deeply unsettling with a mayor whose address is in question.

The ill-gotten fuel assistance came through a program managed by the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, an antipoverty agency that has at times feuded with Lantigua. State officials immediately began taking steps to recoup the money, which Ortega has been receiving for a year or two.

Part of the shame of all of this is that Lantigua — the state’s first Latino mayor — possesses the raw political skills and charisma to begin to turn Lawrence around. While a tad vainglorious, he is a person who could be an inspiration to a city that needs it.

But the bigger shame, of course, is that Lawrence — which teetered on the edge of bankruptcy less than two years ago — is getting scandal when it needs salvation. During his fight to hang onto his legislative seat, and salary, Lantigua made the amusing claim that he would be letting down “people all around the world who are watching us.’’

Plenty of people are watching him, all right. And their reaction to what they are seeing is far worse than simply feeling let down.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at