EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 1, 2013

Lantigua's leadership is central issue

Successes, scandals mark first term as mayor

LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua balanced four budgets in a row, a fundamental responsibility of the job that eluded his predecessor. Three of his budgets so far have ended with multimillion-dollar surpluses.

He repaved miles of city streets, including more than 50 streets over the last two years, marking each with blue and white signs bearing his name and the upbeat inscription “Moving Forward.”

He automated trash collections, nudged up the city’s credit rating from near junk-bond status and presided over important redevelopment projects that he says helped reverse the 17 percent unemployment rate he faced when he took office.

And by his own account, he invited the state to take over city schools in an effort to reverse their chronic under-achievement.

Each success came with a footnote.

Lantigua’s balanced budgets cost dozens of police and firefighters their jobs, producing a spike in crime and a heavy reliance on mutual aid to fight fires that ultimately caused the state to step in and rehire all of the firefighters and many of the police officers. The end of deficit spending in Lawrence also occurred under the watch of a state-appointed fiscal overseer, who remains in control of city spending after four years and has not suggested the city can now live without him.

Most of the money to repave city streets also came from the state, and one of the relatively few streets Lantigua ordered paved was his own.

Lantigua ended trash collection for businesses. He did little to awaken the city’s redevelopment authority out of a slumber that has lasted longer than two years.

The city’s credit rating remains mediocre despite notching up, and its 14 percent unemployment rate is twice the state’s, as is its poverty level. Four in 10 Lawrence children were living in poverty in April, the most recent month for which figures are available.

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