METHUEN — City Council candidate Robert LeBlanc has come under fire from some rivals for branding Lawrence as "the drug capital of New England."
LeBlanc, 68, of 2 Plumwood Drive, who has come under fire this campaign over claims he was banned from Greater Lawrence Technical School for stalking a male high school student, also called on Methuen residents to take a stand against crime and the "cancer" that threatens Methuen's quality of life.
LeBlanc is running for one of three councilor-at-large seats in the Nov. 5 municipal election, along with incumbent Joyce Campagnone and fellow challengers Sharon Birchall, Daniel Grayton and James Jajuga. At-large councilors represent the entire city.
LeBlanc made the remarks about Lawrence during a debate last Thursday at the Merrimack Valley Golf Club. All but Birchall participated.
The candidates were asked what issue they were hearing about most from city residents, aside from taxes and jobs. LeBlanc made his comments about Lawrence after the three other participating candidates brought up public safety.
"I'm not going to dance around what we're talking about here, folks," said LeBlanc. "The real crisis that we're facing, where we have to push back, it rises out of the very simple fact that we border the city of Lawrence — the drug capital of New England."
LeBlanc said most Lawrence residents are "good, hardworking people."
"But there are enough malcontents in the city of Lawrence that pollute and create a cancer atmosphere, threatening the quality of life here in Methuen," said LeBlanc. "And we need to take a stand, and we need to say, 'No more.'"
Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua could not be reached for comment for this story. Two candidates for councilor-at-large, Campagnone and Birchall, criticized LeBlanc yesterday for his remarks at the debate.
"It's our neighboring town, so naturally, we don't want the crime to roll over into Methuen," said Campagnone. "Who are we to throw stones? I don't think he should have said that. You don't want to start pitting community versus community."
"Obviously there's a drug problem in every community," said Birchall. "Degrading a border community doesn't solve the problem. Communities working together on curbing and identifying the problem for a better quality of life is a better approach."
Grayton said Methuen police are responding to the drug problem.
"As a city councilor, I would make sure they continue to have the resources to fight back," said Grayton.
Jajuga said he would like to see enhanced regional collaboration on issues like drug education, intervention and treatment.
"I think what we need to do is work in better collaboration," said Jajuga. "The entire Valley should be working together."
The Eagle-Tribune reported earlier this month that LeBlanc — a well-known lawyer, former Methuen town manager and current attorney for the state Democratic party — was sent letters banning him from the campus of Greater Lawrence Technical School in 2005 and from all Barnes & Noble bookstores in 2002.
LeBlanc has said the letters are baseless and were circulated as a personal attack.
WBZ-TV also reported this month that LeBlanc “stalked ... and propositioned” former GLTS student Kevin Marr in 2005, prompting the then-senior to file a police report and GLTS to issue LeBlanc a no-trespass letter.
WBZ-TV also cited a police report from 2000 in which LeBlanc allegedly followed a male customer into a Barnes & Noble bathroom and “touched himself inappropriately” in front of a urinal.
LeBlanc has not been charged in connection with any of the incidents. But the Massachusetts Republican Party and mayoral challenger Jennifer Kannan have called on him to drop out of the race.
There was no mention of the allegations at last Thursday's debate.
LeBlanc also voiced support at the debate for Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon's failed push in 2012 to install traffic cameras at select busy intersections in the city. LeBlanc said the cameras would generate $1.2 million in annual revenue.
While Jajuga criticized LeBlanc for confusing traffic enforcement with drug enforcement, LeBlanc said the additional revenue generated from the traffic cameras could be used for "enhanced border control, drug enforcement (and) intervention."
Jajuga, a former state trooper and state senator from 1991 to 2001, said he studied the traffic camera issue extensively as chairman of the Legislature's public safety committee.
"It's a money-losing proposition," said Jajuga, adding that the $1.2 million revenue estimate is "absolutely absurd."
Solomon brought his traffic camera proposal to the City Council in early 2012.
The cameras are used to record video and still photos of vehicles running red lights or making illegal right-on-red turns. Violators are then mailed $100 citations. No council vote was taken on the issue.
Yesterday, LeBlanc said more resources are needed to combat the drug problem in the Merrimack Valley.
LeBlanc said he considers traffic cameras as a way to increase funding for the police department. LeBlanc also said police, school officials, parents and other members of the community must work collaboratively to battle drugs.
"The stand we have to take is we're all in the fight to stop the proliferation of drugs together," said LeBlanc. "We want the impact on Methuen to be minimal. Every resource we can grab to achieve that, we should grab."
At the debate, Campagnone said public safety was the top issue among residents, aside from taxes and jobs.
"I really believe that we need to hire a few more policemen," said Campagnone. "Get them out on the street into all the neighborhoods, not just a certain few."
Grayton cited "the growing drug problem, especially in the Central District" as a top issue.
"It is spreading and those things tend to move quickly," said Grayton."Public safety has to be a priority. We need to make sure our residents feel safe in their home."
Jajuga said the the city needs to develop a long-term plan, particularly if plans are approved for a casino in Salem, N.H.
"We're right next door to Salem, folks," said Jajuga. "What about the traffic that goes right through Methuen? What about public safety issues? We're not really doing any long-term strategic planning. Where are we going to be in five or 10 years from now? Where do we want to be? I think that is critical."