LAWRENCE – Who would vote for this guy?
I’ve been wondering about that since Willy Lantigua announced he would run for reelection recently, even as he and his buds are the subject of so many corruption investigations I’ve lost count. The question acquired new urgency Wednesday, as Attorney General Martha Coakley sued the Lawrence mayor for violating campaign finance law.
To many of us, it might seem impossible that anybody besides his employees and cronies would back Lantigua for another term. In Lawrence, it’s a different story.
When I visited earlier this week, I came across lots of people who rolled their eyes and laughed when asked if Lantigua deserves another term. But I also met plenty of men and women who think he’s a great mayor and want more.
“He does a lot of stuff for us,” said Dulce Garcia, a stay-at-home mother shopping with her daughters Monday. “He fixes the streets.”
And what about the allegation that Lantigua’s chief of staff pressed an employee of a local companyto donate a garbage truck to a town in the Dominican Republic, an offense for which he was indicted?
This was fine with Garcia. “I’m really pleased about that,” said the Dominican immigrant, whose daughters translated for her. Some Dominican towns are really poor. It was good of the mayor to want to help.
Along Essex Street, the commercial strip just behind City Hall, every Lantigua fan cited a single accomplishment and no others: The city looks better now, especially in the poorer neighborhoods that were magnets for potholes and trash before he took office.
“He does something the last mayor didn’t do,” said Luis Lara, a 49-year-old tailor who has lived in the city for 21 years. “Some of the streets are brand new. Before he was mayor, they [didn’t] clean the city.” Lara wasn’t aware of the indictment of Lantigua’s chief of staff or of Melix Bonilla, his former campaign manager and deputy police chief indicted on corruption charges.
The allegations wouldn’t make much difference to a lot of Lantigua’s supporters anyway, said Porfirio Moscat, a factory supervisor feeding a meter outside Centro nightclub, near City Hall.
“He [does] a lot of favors for people; he comes here every night and plays the game,” Moscat said, pointing to the nightclub. “Latinos . . . like that. People are thinking like they do in the Dominican Republic. I am from there, and that’s why I left. I want a mayor who follows the law and works for the people.”
This is about more than filled potholes.
In Lawrence, where more than 70 percent of residents are Latino, Lantigua’s City Hall has been a more welcoming place, his ascension as the state’s first elected Latino mayor a point of pride for the city’s immigrants.
As an activist and state rep, Lantigua made plenty of enemies, but he was also a loud and effective champion for the whole city, and people remember that.
He has undone all of that good as mayor, making a string of awful decisions, like trying to collect two taxpayer-funded salaries, thumbing his nose at campaign finance laws, and cutting the police force (he restored some funds after crime jumped).
He has given associates, some supremely unqualified, precious jobs, and awarded allies, indicted and otherwise, crazy-sweet deals at taxpayer expense. He has made himself so radioactive that no elected official in his right mind would want to work with him. And he has done it all with an epic arrogance that has gutted his great city’s reputation, along with his own.
Talking to people in Lawrence, you can see where that arrogance comes from. In a land of low expectations, the man who collects trash is king.
But Lantigua’s supporters deserve much more than he is giving them. It’s time they dared to dream of more than paving. They could even start small.
How about a new mayor who can clean their streets without dragging them through the mud?
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.