LAWRENCE — Embattled Mayor William Lantigua, weeks after announcing his reelection bid, said Tuesday during his State of the City address that his community has seen a marked improvement during his tenure.
Before a crowd of more than 50 in the City Council chamber, Lantigua strode to the lectern and stared silently at the councilors for a few seconds, sipping from a bottle of water before launching into his speech.
His 45-minute address touched on several areas he said are getting better, including improved schools, cleaner streets, better fiscal health, and a steep drop in crime.
“Crime has dropped to the lowest level in nearly a decade,” said Lantigua, 57. “A decade is 10 years, for those who might choose not to know what that is.”
He also said he is proposing a weapons upgrade to the police force, following the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Because officers risk being outgunned by criminals, he was submitting a proposal to equip every cruiser with a “high-powered rifle to safeguard [the] cruiser and residents alike,” Lantigua said. “I ask for this to be taken up immediately.”
That proposal was met with skepticism from Councilor Daniel Rivera, who is running against Lantigua in the mayoral election.
“Prioritizing rifles over more police officers to me is maybe questionable,” Rivera said.
Lantigua was criticized early in his term for laying off a significant number of police officers, which he said was due to budget constraints. Some funding for the department has been restored, however, and Lantigua vowed Tuesday to make public safety a priority.
“The public safety budget will not be compromised as long as I am in office,” he said during one of the few applause lines in his speech.
Seven firefighters will also soon be added, the mayor said.
In addition, Lantigua cited what he said were improvements to the city’s public school system since coming under direct control of the state.
And, Lantigua said, two major bond rating agencies have recently upgraded the city’s fiscal outlook to stable, and more businesses are seeking to invest in the city.
After the speech, Rivera noted that the city’s fiscal health improved following a cash infusion from the state, which continues to oversee city coffers.
“It helps when we borrowed $35 million,” he said.
He also suggested that Lantigua was being disingenuous in promoting the educational improvements because the state assumed control of the school district.
“He was one of the reasons they came into the city,” Rivera said. “He didn’t ask them to come.”
The political and legal problems facing Lantigua’s administration have been manifold.
His first term has been marked by several controversies, including state and federal investigations, two recall attempts, and the indictments of two of his close allies on political corruption charges.
In late December, Lantigua said he would run for a second term, stunning critics but galvanizing supporters who say the mayor has pointed the mostly Latino city of about 75,000 in the right direction.
He has also been accused repeatedly of using city operations for personal gain, charges he has vigorously denied. Lantigua has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
During his speech Tuesday, the mayor did not mention the various corruption allegations.
Rivera, however, said he believes they have taken a toll on the mayor’s agenda and the city as a whole.
“I think, really, people just can’t see past his toxicity,” said Rivera, adding that he wishes Lantigua well and does not know enough about the investigations to say whether he thought the mayor has committed any crimes.
Another councilor, Marc Laplante, took aim at Lantigua during an earlier public comment period Tuesday. He said the mayor has done little to address declining property values, police staffing shortages, and high unemployment, among other issues.