LAWRENCE — If the grand jury probing Mayor William Lantigua indicts him, local and state officials — not a judge or another jury — would face the next question: can a city already struggling with 17 percent unemployment, surging crime and two failing schools take on the added burden of a distracted mayor on trial?
A raft of state and federal agencies are investigating Lantigua, including Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, who last week began probing a swap of 13 city cars for four owned by a used car dealer close to the mayor. But the real firepower would come from a federal grand jury in Boston, which is investigating allegations of bid rigging, narcotics and weapons trafficking at local clubs, suspicious overseas travel and other charges involving Lantigua.
On Friday, Gov. Deval Patrick's press office punted a question about what might be next for Lawrence if its mayor is indicted to the Secretary of Administration and Finance, Jay Gonzalez. His spokeswoman, Alex Zaroulis, requested the question in writing, but did not respond.
While touring Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill two weeks ago, Patrick responded to the question vaguely.
"Speculation isn't helpful," Patrick said. "I can tell you that we are not going to let Lawrence fail."
The state already has its thumb on the city. In April 2010, a fiscal overseer opened an office in City Hall as a condition the state imposed when it allowed Lawrence to borrow $35 million to cover deficits run up by a previous administration.
Embedded in the legislation is the only provision in any state or local law that allows for removing a mayor. The legislation allows Gonzalez to name a control board or a receiver that would have the power to remove the mayor and run the city, but the law says Gonzalez must first determine that the city is unable to balance its budget.