EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 17, 2013

Winners, losers if torch is passed at City Hall

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — He gave high-paying jobs to his political lieutenants, signed the paychecks issued to family and friends and demoted or fired his critics while keeping indicted employees on the payroll.

Mayor William Lantigua’s political associates and friends may be the first out the door at City Hall on Jan. 2 if Daniel Rivera can hold onto his microscopic lead — less than four-tenths of 1 percent — in the recount of the Nov. 5 mayoral race scheduled for Saturday.

The potential job losers include Lorenza Ortega, Lantigua’s girlfriend or wife — she has been identified as both — who as a $50,000-a-year confidential secretary in the Personnel Department has access to some of the most sensitive information at 200 Common St.

Indicted employees Melix Bonilla, the deputy police chief who managed Lantigua’s 2009 campaign, and Justo Garcia, the parking attendant who is the mayor’s campaign photographer, will lose their paychecks until the corruption charges against them are resolved, Rivera said several times during the campaign.

Lantigua has continued paying Bonilla his $140,000 annual salary since he was indicted on extortion and other charges 14 months ago. Garcia has continued collecting his $39,520 salary since he was charged with skimming collections at the Museum Square garage in June.

The lights also may go down a bit at several of the bars and clubs where Lantigua often passed the after-hours of his administration and held several campaign functions, including Rio Bar and Grill, Terra Luna and Bali’s. He helped several obtain their liquor licenses and keep them when trouble hit,

There would be winners, too, if the torch is passed at City Hall on Jan. 2.

City Councilors Marc Laplante, Eileen Bernal and Sandy Almonte – who was once a Lantigua favorite – endorsed Rivera and campaigned for him. The three, along with Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez, who won an at-large seat on the council in November after an absence of four years, would likely form the core of any Rivera bloc on the council, which would make their calls the first to get answered on the third floor.

Rivera rejected a request for an interview about who would be the winners and losers in Lawrence if he keeps his lead through the recount. But he dropped clues on the campaign trail.

From that record, here’s a list of whose stars could be rising and setting in Lawrence if Rivera holds onto his lead through Saturday’s recount and his election is certified by the Board of Registrars (which includes City Clerk William Maloney, for whom Rivera has had some harsh public words).

Setting

Mayra Lantigua: the mayor’s former wife has served on the Licensing Board for about seven years and has been acting chairwoman for about a year. Her term expired six years ago but she has continued serving, as the law allows. Rivera could replace her at any time. She earns up to $5,000.

Patrick Blanchette and the rest of Lantigua’s staff in the Office of the Mayor: The staff is tiny, but packed with Lantigua’s political operatives. All would automatically lose their jobs on Jan. 2 if Lantigua loses the recount. Besides Blanchette, who as director of economic development earns $86,400, the office includes recently hired Chief of Staff Frederic Diaz ($64,000), receptionist Johelly Chalas ($40,000), aide Vinicio Frometa ($39,393) and confidential secretary Maria Cruz ($55,000). Cruz is well-regarded and will likely remain on the city payroll.

Peter Blanchette: Patrick’s brother and the city’s Building Commissioner. He earns $77,716.

City Clerk Maloney: Rivera blasted Maloney ($65,392) for the way he ran the 2012 presidential election, when rickety voting booths collapsed under the weight of voters’ pens, polling places ran out of pens, untrained poll workers muddled through out-of-date voter roles and lines to the booths were hours long. This year, after Secretary of State William Galvin released a highly critical report of the Sept. 17 preliminary election, Rivera asked Galvin to take over the general election on Nov. 5. Galvin declined, but sent supervisors. Rivera would need six votes on the council to fire Maloney, clerk since 2008.

Isabel Melendez: She’s the ultimate Lantigua insider and managed his campaign this year. She’s built a political base out of several small anti-poverty programs she runs out of a former public school building valued at $1 million that she has occupied rent-free since about 2009. She may soon get a rent bill.

Daron Fraser: Lantigua moved the police officer to a dispatching job after he was convicted of assaulting a former girlfriend. His job could be the first place Rivera looks as he attempts to put more cops on the street. He earns $54,034.

The Parking Department: The department is bloated by patronage and would provide more fertile ground for savings as Rivera searches for revenue to rebuild the ranks of the Police Department.

John Isensee: Rivera opposed giving the acting director of Public Works a full time appointment to the position when Lantigua nominated him because he did not meet the technical qualifications for the job. He remains acting director at a salary of about $95,000.

Public Works foremen Joel Chalas and Jorge Jaime: The two political foot-soldiers for Lantigua brought few qualifications to their jobs when he appointed them, other than intense loyalty to their boss. Rivera has twice tried to remove funding for their positions from the budget. Chalas earns $58,081. Jaime earns $53,354.

Breda Daou: Lantigua appointed Daou chief assessor, demoting Alexcy Vega from the post. Vega may get his old job back. Information about the salary for the job was not immediately available.

Rising

Alexcy Vega: See “Breda Daou.”

Frank McLaughlin: The president of the Lawrence teachers union delivered the endorsement of the city’s biggest union of public employees to Rivera. City schools are run by a state receiver, so Rivera won’t have much to say about how the schools are run. Nevertheless, he said during his campaign that the schools would be a focus of his administration, positioning McLaughlin to be an insider.

Mixed Message

The Police Department: Rivera has said his first goal will be to put more cops on the beat, but hasn’t been specific about how he’ll pay for them. He’s also said that the 2.5 percent annual raises Lantigua negotiated with the city’s two police unions are unaffordable. Three years ago, his suggestion that cops take pay cuts or give up benefits to help pay for new hires went nowhere with the union.

State Rep. Marcos Devers: He endorsed Rivera in the general election after finishing a distant third to Rivera and Lantigua in the preliminary election. After receiving the endorsement, Rivera promised he would work to keep Devers in the Statehouse, an endorsement any state rep would like to have. But it’s complicated. Lantigua held the Statehouse seat until he became mayor in 2009. If he attempts a political comeback next year, Devers’ seat could be the place to begin. Lantigua has beaten Devers in all three of their earlier contests.