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Adrian Walker

More political shame in Lawrence

A well-known city employee in Lawrence will find himself in a Massachusetts courtroom this morning. That development probably won’t register as a shock in the worst-run city in Massachusetts, the one overseen by the inimitable William Lantigua.

Sometime over the weekend Lantigua crony Jose Santiago, a former state representative and Methuen cop, was arrested for violating a restraining order taken out by his ex-girlfriend last week. His arraignment is scheduled for Monday morning in Lawrence District Court.

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Initial details were sketchy, but Santiago was arrested outside a downtown nightclub by officers on a police detail. According to the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, the alleged violation had actually taken place on Thursday, just one day after the woman had obtained the order.

This was not Santiago’s first appearance in the news lately. He was recently hired by Lantigua to work in the city’s Public Works Department. He replaced Tom Sapienza, whom Lantigua fired last November in an act of appalling heartlessness.

As reported in heart-rending detail a few weeks ago by my colleague Yvonne Abraham, Sapienza was fired while on leave to take care of his terminally ill wife, who was battling cancer. With his wife’s time clearly running short, Sapienza had asked for an extension on his leave and was denied. Heather Sapienza, 40, died last Thursday, a few weeks after Lantigua replaced her devoted husband with an old political crony.

To be fair, anyone can hire someone who later runs afoul of the law, and Santiago has not been found guilty of anything. But his mere presence in city government reeks of the cronyism and corruption that have made the Lantigua administration such a failure for a city in desperate need of a turnaround. At last count, Lantigua was the subject of probes by county, state, and federal governments. Two key aides have been indicted on corruption charges. Through it all, Lantigua has maintained — in increasingly infrequent public comments — that the people of Lawrence love him, that his woes are the politically motivated work of outsiders.

Lantigua and Santiago have a relationship that stretches back years, during which they have been both allies and adversaries. Lantigua worked in Santiago’s first campaign, and later beat him in a 2002 race for state representative. Santiago worked for Lantigua’s opponent when the mayor was elected in 2009. Now they are allies again. Lantigua’s rise in Lawrence coincided with Santiago’s decline. He lost his seat in 2002, and was fired from his police job in 2004, after refusing to take a mandatory retraining course. Now he has a job in the water and sewer department, thanks to his old acquaintance, the mayor.

“Their careers have gone in opposite directions,” said Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers Union. “Neither of them positive for Lawrence.”

Lantigua’s latest brush with disaster came just last week, when the state Department of Revenue placed a lien against him for $5,475 in unpaid income taxes. The lien was lifted a day later. The state will not, as a matter of policy, discuss how such matters are resolved, and Lantigua has declined to comment. The tax issue should be an embarrassment for any mayor, let alone one who runs a fiscally challenged city heavily dependent on state aid. But it is impossible to say what embarrasses Willy Lantigua.

The real shame is that Lantigua is a smart, charismatic politician — the type of person who, in theory, could make a fine mayor. But he has instead devoted himself to taking care of buddies, settling scores with enemies. His signature accomplishment has been fending off indictment.

And he just announced he is running for reelection this year. One awful term, apparently, is not enough for him. He recently told the Boston Herald that he “has a few moves left.” Based on his record, those moves don’t figure to do much good for Lawrence. “We’re supposed to be turning things around,” McLaughlin said Sunday. “Instead, we’re going backward.”

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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