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Kevin Cullen

Languishing in Lawrence

LAWRENCE — Dan Rivera just made like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and doused Willie Lantigua with water.

Slick Willie is melting, melting. What a world. What a world.

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But, unlike Almira Gulch’s alter ego, Willie isn’t going to disappear without a fight.

In the race for mayor, Rivera beat Lantigua by just 60 votes out of 15,190 ballots cast. But there are 54 provisional ballots that have to be evaluated, some absentee ballots still sailing in, and then, predictably, Slick Willie’s slick lawyer got up and started talking about jammed voting machines. A recount seems inevitable.

And so, here in Lawrence, the state’s fiscal and ethical basketcase, we have the prospect of a cop with a gun standing outside a room in City Hall, guarding the ballots.

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This is the new normal in Lawrence.

“This city has been in a perpetual state of pause,” Rivera said, referring to the inability to move forward with the stench of so many ethical and fiscal problems wafting from the mayor’s office.

The pause continues.

Raised by a single mom from the Dominican Republic, Rivera never knew his dad but grew up to be a role model. He went to UMass, served his country in the Army during the Gulf War, and came back to the town he grew up in because he wants to make it better.

And making Lawrence better means getting rid of Willie Lantigua, whose administration has been the subject of more grand juries than a season’s worth of “Law and Order” episodes.

Willie, meanwhile, is taking the Fifth, so to speak, letting his lawyer do all the talking.

Which is nothing new. In a city where Latinos make up three-quarters of the population, Willie didn’t even bother to speak English at his campaign rallies. Rivera reached out to all 77,000 residents of Lawrence, Anglo and Latino. Willie just talked to his base.

Willie wouldn’t deign to debate Dan Rivera. Why should he? Willie is above all that, looking down on his crumbling, bankrupt kingdom from the castle that is City Hall.

Dan Rivera is such a decent guy that he thinks everything is on the up and up. He is firmly convinced he will emerge from this imbroglio as mayor.

I wish I shared his idealism, but, hey, this is Lawrence we’re talking about.

Those provisional ballots have to be approved by the city’s Board of Registrars, one of whom is the city clerk, William Maloney, who did nothing to address the improprieties that surrounded the preliminary election in September. On that voting day, observers watched Lantigua supporters escort people into voting booths and mark ballots for them. Maloney was accused of obstructing efforts to recall Lantigua.

Rivera has said he will fire Maloney, whom he views as a Lantigua stooge. It’s not exactly comforting to know Maloney has the responsibility to approve provisional ballots.

Another member of the Board of Registrars is Ana Medina, whose picture appears in the dictionary next to the words “conflict of interest.”

Medina runs a nonprofit that gets funding from Lantigua’s administration. She gave $400 to Lantigua’s campaign and her car is covered with Lantigua bumper stickers. The Lantigua sign she has in front of her house is approximately the size of the old outdoor movie screen at the Revere Drive-In. That sign is in blatant violation of zoning laws, but, funny, no one from the city has ever told Medina to take it down. Must be just dumb luck.

There are two vacancies on the Board of Registrars, and one of the people Lantigua has nominated to fill them is the brother-in-law of Melix Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager who Lantigua installed as deputy police chief. Bonilla is awaiting trial on corruption charges, but still drawing his $115,920 salary.

Is this a great country, or what?

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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