By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Marc Laplante, the longest serving of the city council’s nine members and its most outspoken critic of Mayor William Lantigua, said yesterday he will not challenge Lantigua in his bid for a second term, ending months of speculation that he often fueled himself.
“I am confident I could offer the city a refreshingly new approach to governing, but right now my priority is my family,” said Laplante, a father of three boys who represents District F in South Lawrence. “The risks and demands that such a race would command are simply more than I can accept at this time.”
Laplante said he will run for a fifth two-year term on the City Council.
By opting out of the mayoral race, he leaves the field so far to Lantigua and City Councilor Daniel Rivera, although several others are considering entering the race. Among them, former City Councilor David Abdoo, who lost to Lantigua by 1,000 votes in 2009, and state Rep. Marcos Devers, who holds the statehouse seat Lantigua gave up after he became mayor, both said yesterday that they have not decided whether to enter the race.
For Laplante, the race against an incumbent mayor who once called Laplante “an enemy of the people” would have been a longshot. He is one of just a handful of Anglos still holding elective office in a city that is 72 percent Latino. He’s a Republican in a city that has fewer than 3,000 of them, although mayoral races are non-partisan. His campaign organization had just $1,600 in the bank on Dec. 31, a fraction of the $100,000 that the race is likely to cost the two candidates who make it past the preliminary election on Sept. 17 to the general election on Nov. 5. Rivera said he may spend twice that.
But Laplante also is one of the city’s most energetic campaigners. He won 59 percent of the vote against incumbent Michael Fielding — Lantigua’s former campaign treasurer — in a comeback campaign for the council in 2009, after representing a North Lawrence district for two terms between 1998 and 2001. He increased his margin to 68 percent in 2010, when he defeated Randy Jaime, Lantigua’s handpicked candidate to oppose him.
On the council, Laplante emerged as the original anti-Lantigua within months of the mayor’s arrival at City Hall in January 2010. His focus has been on Lantigua’s appointees, including in September 2010, when he was the only councilor to oppose all three of Lantigua’s most controversial appointments — Economic Development director Patrick Blanchette, Personnel Director Frank Bonet and Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla.
Since then, Laplante has twice tried to get Bonilla off the payroll, most recently after Bonilla was indicted on corruption charges in September, when Laplante proposed a local law that would embargo the paychecks of city workers who are indicted. The proposal is stalled in a council committee, along with Laplante’s earlier proposal to abolish the deputy chief’s job altogether.
More recently, in October Laplante undid two of Lantigua’s appointments to the Licensing Board after he pointed out that neither met the partisan qualifications for the board, forcing both to step down.
Last month, Laplante took the fight to Lantigua’s Boxford Street driveway, where he photographed a city contractor plowing the driveway after the blizzard of Feb. 8-9, then posted the photos of the plow at work on his Facebook page and emailed them to local and Boston media. The contractor said he was paid a market rate for the work.
Laplante, 46, is an enforcement coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Protection in Wilmington. He regularly rides his bicycle the 23-mile round trip from his Durso Avenue home to the office, as he did yesterday.
He said he would wait for the field of mayoral candidates to round out before deciding who to endorse, but said it wont’ be Lantigua.
“That’s fairly obvious,” he said. “When the indictments (of Bonilla and Lantigua’s former chief of staff, Leonard Degnan) came down last year and the mayor took no responsibility for the dark cloud around his administration, I immediately called for his resignation. Since that time, he’s done nothing to convince me that he should carry on.”
Lantigua could not be reached for comment yesterday.