LAWRENCE — City officials were mum yesterday about whether the laborer’s job that opened Monday — when Mayor William Lantigua fired the former state representative who held it for six weeks — might go to the only known applicant for it: the man Lantigua also fired from a similar job also six weeks ago because he refused to return from the leave he took to care for his dying wife.
Tom Sapienza, who held the job for eight years before taking the unpaid leave in August, lost his wife, Heather, to cancer on Jan. 3. She had battled the disease for 19 months.
Sapienza has filed a union grievance against the city to get his $18-an-hour job back, which Personnel Director Frank Bonet is scheduled to hear over the next week or two.
Sapienza, who is white, also is preparing a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the city that will claim Lantigua fired him from the public works job on Nov. 26 to create a vacancy for a Latino with fewer qualifications but political connections, who was hired the same day.
Acting Public Works Director John Isensee said Sapienza was fired because the city could not continue renewing his leave and filling his job indefinitely with temporary appointments.
Nevertheless, on the day Sapienza was fired, a temporary appointment to a similar laborer’s job was given to former state Rep. Jose Santiago, who groomed Lantigua for a career in Lawrence politics more than a decade ago. Lantigua managed Santiago’s campaigns, then defeated him for the statehouse seat in 2001. The two have had an uneven relationship since, but it appeared to warm again as Lantigua gears up his campaign for a second term as mayor.
The relationship may have chilled again Monday when Lantigua fired Santiago following his arrest outside a Lawrence nightclub early Saturday for allegedly violating a restraining order obtained by a former girlfriend who accused him of threatening her.