By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE – Mayor William Lantigua and former State Rep. Jose Santiago were once bitter political rivals, but now Santiago is working for the mayor as a $15 per hour laborer in the Sewer and Water Department.
Santiago, whom Lantigua ousted from the Statehouse seat in 2002 and defeated again in a rematch two years later, reported to work yesterday.
The new job ends a period of unemployment for Santiago, 53, but not for long. He was given a 90-day appointment to the position, temporarily replacing another laborer who is on an unpaid leave.
Neither Santiago or Lantigua returned phone calls seeking to determine what hand Lantigua had in getting Santiago the temporary appointment at the DPW yard, where several of Lantigua’s political lieutenants have gotten jobs recently. City protocol requires the mayor’s approval for new hires, although it was unclear if the protocol extends to temporary hires.
Santiago could not be found at the yard when an Eagle-Tribune reporter visited yesterday afternoon.
An attempt to learn whether the laborer’s position had been publicly posted also failed when Lorenza Ortega, a secretary in the city’s Human Resources Department, ordered a reporter making the inquiry out of the office. Ortega is Lantigua’s wife.
The temporary laborer’s job adds another line to Santiago’s long resume. He joined the Methuen police force in 1982, reaching the rank of sergeant before going on a disability leave with an injured back in 1996.
He was the first Latino elected to the Lawrence City Council, and was elected to the Statehouse in 1998 and re-elected in 2000 in a campaign that Lantigua managed. That alliance ended in 2002, when Lantigua defeated Santiago’s bid for a third term. Lantigua held the seat until becoming mayor in 2010.
Santiago attempted to return to the Methuen police department in 2004, but was blocked because he refused to pay for the retraining the city requires of officers who are gone longer than five years. His appeals to the Civil Service Commission and the state Superior and Appeals courts failed.
He worked in a warehouse for the Shaw’s supermarket chain from about 2000 at least until 2010, when he earned $41,000.
He filed for personal bankruptcy in 2010. His debts were discharged later that year.
Santiago made another unsuccessful run for the state House of Representatives in November, when he ran as an unenrolled candidate against incumbent Marcos Devers, a Democrat, in the 16th Essex House District. He received just 14.5 percent of the vote.
The animosity between Santiago and Lantigua lasted at least until 2009, when Santiago volunteered for mayoral candidate David Abdoo, who lost to Lantigua. Lantigua alleged that Abdoo planned to hire Santiago as his chief of staff if he were elected, which Abdoo denied.
Lantigua’s term expires next year. He has indicated he will run for a second term.