By Paul Tennant
---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua announced to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters last night he will run for another four-year term.
In an exclusive interview with The Eagle-Tribune, he touted his accomplishments over the past three years, including bringing the city back from near-bankruptcy when he took office in January 2010. The city faced a $30 million deficit at that time, he noted.
Lantigua has submitted three consecutive balanced budgets since then. His administration has also repaved many streets and unemployment is dropping in the city, he added.
Lantigua made his announcement at the Rio Bar & Grill, 9 Appleton St., just a short walk from City Hall. More than 100 people attended, according to Angel Villalona, owner of the Rio.
Villalona said he was asked to host the gathering, but he emphasized he’s not involved in the politics of Lawrence.
“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” he said.
The crowd was “very enthusiastic,” Lantigua said, and he has received “overwhelming” support from residents who want him to seek re-election.
The mayor said he would have been willing to step aside if large numbers of voters had urged him to do so, but that has not happened.
“We are moving in the right direction,” he said.
Supporters on his Facebook page seemed to echo those comments. He received 184 likes to his announcement that he was considering running for re-election. At press time, 97 people had commented on his post. Most were positive pledges of support, thanking him for the improved city trash collection, repaved streets and his fiscal responsibility with city budgets. One supporter called him “the best mayor (of) Lawrence.”
Lantigua’s first three years in office have been plagued with controversy, the latest being the indictments of two top officials in his administration, police Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla and his former Chief of Staff Leonard Degnan.
Bonilla is accused of improperly transferring the ownership of 13 police cars to an automobile dealer while Degnan is alleged to have pressured a waste contractor to send a trash truck to the Dominican Republic.
Both men pleaded not guilty.
“We have not done anything wrong,” the mayor said when asked about the indictments.
“I think he’ll be very strong,” District F City Councilor Marc Laplante said in relation to Lantigua’s candidacy. Those who underestimate Lantigua do so at their own peril, he said.
Laplante, who has called for Lantigua to resign, is not exactly in the mayor’s corner. Yet he has come to respect Lantigua for his political savvy.
Asked about who might challenge Lantigua, Laplante, whose district is on the east side of South Lawrence and includes the Mount Vernon neighborhood, said, “People are evaluating and assessing. I don’t think he’s going to get a free pass.”