Paving the way for votes

Former Lawrence mayor William Lantigua made street repaving a centerpiece of his reelection campaign last year

CORRECTION: The original map that accompanied this story was based on a 2010 draft redistricting plan provided by the Lawrence city clerk’s office in error. The map and legend have been revised to reflect the final redistricting map approved in 2011.

former lawrence mayor William Lantigua made street repaving a centerpiece of his reelection campaign last year, particularly in the final throes of the race, but the nearly $1 million effort doesn’t appear to have done the heavily favored candidate much good.

The roadwork touched every political precinct in the city and some repaved streets, such as Salem and South Union streets on the south side and Ames and Water streets north of the Merrimack River, ran through multiple precincts. But some precincts received far more attention than others. Generally speaking, in precincts where his race against Daniel Rivera was in doubt, Lantigua repaved the most streets. In those precincts where he was historically strong or weak, and there was little chance of moving the needle either way, he did almost no roadwork.

For instance, in precinct E-1 in the predominantly white southwest section of Lawrence, an area Lantigua lost to former city councilor David Abdoo in 2009 by a 79-21 percent margin, only one street was repaved and that was on the border with the neighboring precinct. He dropped the precinct in November’s election by an 81-19 margin. By contrast, Lantigua repaved six streets in the predominantly Hispanic precinct D-1, which he won by 5 points over Abdoo in 2009 and needed to retain to have a chance at reelection. He lost the precinct in 2013 by 2.6 points and lost the overall election to Rivera in a recount by 83 votes.

Election results overall indicate that Lantigua’s asphalt plan was littered with potholes, figuratively and literally. In 2009, Lantigua captured two-thirds of the city’s 24 precincts in defeating Abdoo. Against Rivera last year, Lantigua won three fewer precincts and ended up garnering a smaller percentage of the vote in all but four precincts. Even in the precincts where he did the most street work, Lantigua’s percentage of the vote declined.

In the final month of the campaign, Lantigua repaved 16 streets for what it would normally cost to do half that number by either repaving without a top-coat sealant or applying sealant to a road just to make it look better. A street without sealant looks good but begins to deteriorate within months after being hit with snow, ice, and rain. Applying a thin topcoat with no underlying repaving is like painting over a house without scraping off the chips.

“It was like putting lipstick on a pig,” says John Isensee, the acting director of Public Works. “After they plow it a couple times, the seal coating starts to rip away. The lipstick starts to wear off.”

Lantigua’s actions are now the focus of a federal grand jury investigation. Whether the repaving was criminal is unclear, but there is no question Lantigua was heavily involved.

City engineer Andrew Wall, who oversaw the work, says nearly all streets in Lawrence require some level of upgrading and the ones selected by Lantigua were no exception. Wall says he made recommendations to Lantigua on streets, but the final decision was always the mayor’s.

Isensee, a 35-year veteran of the department, says the mayor clearly had an agenda. “I’ve never seen a mayor so involved in all my time here.”

PRECINCTS IN ORANGE had just one street repaved, some just on the border of an abutting precinct. These were generally areas that Lantigua won or lost by large margins in 2009. In 2013, he lost vote share in all eight precincts.

PRECINCTS IN BLUE had two or three streets repaved. In 2009, Lantigua won seven of the 10 precincts and lost three to David Abdoo. But many of those precincts changed boundaries in the 2011 redistricting so a direct comparison is difficult. In 2013, Lantigua won seven precincts and lost three to Rivera, picking up one he lost and losing one in a significant shift of votes. His share of the vote declined in eight precincts, including a whopping 87 point swing in precinct C-2, where he beat Abdoo by 62 points in 2009 but lost to Rivera by 25 points in 2013.

PRECINCTS IN PURPLE had four streets that were repaved. The three precincts included two Lantigua strongholds and one where he lost by a nearly 2-1 margin in 2009. In 2013, he again won two precincts and lost one, but his share of the vote declined in one of the precincts he won and increased in the one he lost.

PRECINCTS IN GREEN had six or more streets repaved, most of them to industry standards. The three green precincts include one Lantigua won handily, one he won narrowly, and one in which he was beaten by 13.5 points in 2009. In 2013, his share of the vote declined in all three precincts.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

ROADS HIGHLIGHTED IN RED were worked on in the final month of the campaign and the work was performed at a substandard level for appearances sake.

Research Associate Ian Jakus contributed to this report.