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September 1, 2013

Lantigua's leadership is central issue

Successes, scandals mark first term as mayor


And when Lantigua describes the state takeover of the school system he oversaw, what goes unmentioned is the stinging rebuke of his leadership that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued as it prepared to step in.

The department’s 75-page assessment said that under Lantigua’s chairmanship, the School Committee focused on “unproductive activities” while failing to perform its core missions, including hiring a superintendent.

Lantigua, 58, carries this complex narrative of his first four-year term into the preliminary election on Sept. 17, when he will face five challengers who have made his leadership a central issue of the campaign. The top two candidates will go on to the Nov. 5 general election.

“This administration is lacking a vision of where Lawrence should be headed,” said Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, a city firefighter who is one of the challengers Lantigua will face on Sept. 17. “You see the signs on the polls — ‘Moving Forward’ — but are we really moving forward? I don’t see it.”

Whatever disagreement there is about his successes and setbacks since he took office on Jan. 4, 2009, with a pledge to be “the best mayor Lawrence ever had,” Lantigua has evolved from his days as a Statehouse representative little known outside the city to become one of the most prominent and controversial public figures in the state.

The transition has been assisted by his status as the first Latino elected to lead a Massachusetts municipality and by his sometimes confrontational style of government and politics, his tight control of life inside City Hall and the attention he receives from news organizations across the state, brought on by the controversies and scandals that began on his first days in office, when he said he would not give up his $60,000-a-year position as a state representative.

His colleagues in Boston pushed him out of the 16th Essex seat after a few weeks by threatening to blow up a deal he helped craft that allowed the city to borrow up to $35 million to cover the years of deficit spending that preceded him.

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