Lantigua Agonistes

With the Bay State riveted on Mitt Romney’s floundering fortunes and Scott Brown’s declining poll numbers, the biggest municipal scandal in recent years is playing out quietly in the Merrimack Valley.

It should be a banner year in Lawrence. The city is commemorating the centennial of the Bread and Roses Strike, one of the pivotal episodes in the history of the labor movement. The bond markets have given the city their cautious blessing as its state-supervised finances slowly recover from years of mismanagement.  Another state-appointed official is getting its schoolhouses in order.

Yet Lawrence is all but paralyzed as the city waits for Mayor William Lantigua to reach the same conclusion that almost everyone else has: His tenure as the city’s chief executive is over.

Like the hero of a Greek tragedy, Lantigua insists on standing his ground amid signs that all is not well. Yet the oracle in this story, an Essex County grand jury, has shown him that his future is dark indeed.

His right hand man Patrick Blanchette, the city’s economic development director, has asked a grand jury to allow him to take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. The same body indicted another Lantigua long-time loyalist, Leonard Degnan, along with Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, who also has a connection to the mayor, on corruption charges, including bribery, conspiracy, and extortion. Lantigua is allowing Bonilla to collect his $140,000 salary in violation of state law. City Council members have asked state overseer Robert Nunes to step in to deal with the pay issue.  Another police officer with connections to Lantigua has been placed on administrative leave after FBI agents raided his home.

The mayor is chairman of the school committee but no longer shows up to meetings.  Another member of the city’s Licensing Board has resigned and that departure leaves the board with only one member, Lantigua’s ex-wife. The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance has engaged a collection agency to deal with $5,000 in fines that the mayor has yet to pay. The Eagle-Tribune publishes almost daily editorials castigating the mayor on all of these issues and more.

As a state representative, Lantigua was lauded for his work on behalf of one of the poorest cities in the state. Once ensconced in City Hall, he charted a path that few recognize today. A once-promising politician has crashed and burned spectacularly and only the final act remains to be sketched out.

                                                                                                                                        –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Former Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach says a single rogue chemist” was responsible for the state crime lab scandal.  Paul Levy defends Auerbach, who resigned in the wake of the crisis, and says it was politics, not incompetence, that cost the public health official his position.  The Globe says the scandal could result in damaging fallout for Gov. Deval Patrick and his attempt to burnish a national image. The House Post Audit and Oversight Committee plans a probe.

The Herald reports that many public officials aren’t following the new ethics reform law, particularly the part about new hires disclosing relatives on the state payroll.

Bowing to pressure from the state gambling commission, Springfield officials say they will delay any local vote on possible casino operators until applicants have been fully vetted by the state panel.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A bid to enforce the residency requirement in Lynn stirs controversy, the Item reports.

Officials at the Abington-Rockland joint water district said residents can safely drink the water after E. coli bacteria that was detected in the distribution system was cleaned out.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Standard & Poor’s lowers its credit outlook for New Jersey, citing concerns about revenue projections. Gov. Chris Christie nevertheless renews his call for an income tax cut, the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

Does Congress represent you? Listen to Andrea Seabrook’s report on the House of misRepresentatives.

Worries about federal sequestration reach Gloucester as the Gloucester Times reports on companies receiving defense contracts that could be affected by the automatic spending cuts.

A newly unearthed audio recording of John F. Kennedy at a dinner party just after announcing for president shows a vulnerable, insecure side of the late president, the Globe reports.

ELECTION 2012

The Globe reports that Mitt Romney’s characterization of the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax contains several fallacies. Among them: the idea that these people will “vote for the president no matter what,” when many in that group — seniors and white Bible Belt residents, for instance — are important Republican constituencies that Romney is counting on. Romney’s remarks are similar to ones voice by his budget chief Eric Kriss nearly a decade ago, CommonWealth reports. Watch the Romney video and decide for yourself at Mother Jones.  And, yes, Jimmy Carter is proud of his grandson’s role in the video drama.

Time reports that Romney’s campaign is far from dead. The National Review has 13 columns on Romney’s “47 percent” speech, mostly defending the nominee and making sure everyone knows then-candidate Barack Obama had a similar surreptitious faux pas in 2008. In the Weekly Standard, John McCormack deconstructs a list of Romney bloopers and argues Romney’s problem is he’s playing a conservative but really still isn’t one. Weekly Standard editor William Kristol is less forgiving, calling Romney’s remarks “stupid and arrogant.”  Ross Kaminsky at the American Spectator says the tapes should actually help Romney get back on message.

A WBUR poll finds Elizabeth Warren leading US Sen. Scott Brown by five points, with a growing number of voters saying they believe she will stand up for regular people. Wasn’t the consensus just 10 days ago that Warren was running a lousy campaign? Brian McGrory doesn’t think much of Brown’s “On the Road” tour, even disparaging the constant presence in campaign ads of the senator’s beloved pick-up truck.

Polls show President Obama ahead in most swing states.

RELIGION

Was Jesus a married man?  A Harvard scholar presented evidence yesterday at a conference in Rome suggesting this as a possibility.

A proposed plan that would reorganize the Boston Archdiocese’s individual parishes into clusters is being met with ambivalence by parishioners and clergy.

EDUCATION

US News & World Report has a list of the top 10 colleges with the highest room and board and No. 4 on the list is Suffolk University, the only Massachusetts school to make it.
A Fall River alternative education program that had laid off staff and was serving just a handful of youths got a lifeline from a $1.1 million federal grant.

The North Adams and Lee school districts move to add more math, science, and English AP courses.

School officials say “gaming technologies” could be a growth area for vocational schools grooming students for casino jobs, the Item reports.

The Chicago teachers strike ends, the Chicago Tribune reports. The Daily Beast analyzes Rahm Emanuel’s flawed deal.

The school department in Cranston, Rhode Island, cancels a father-daughter dance after officials conclude it is a violation of state law, the Providence Journal reports.

HEALTH CARE

Lowell General Hospital is closing the Saints cancer center, the Sun reports.

Tufts Medical Center and for-profit Vanguard explore a collaboration short of a merger, the Globe reports.

North Shore Medical Center loses $14 million, the Salem News reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Gov. Deval Patrick is meeting with officials from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington today to discuss the South Coast Rail project. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray releases a report updating progress on transportation issues, including South Coast Rail, the Taunton Gazette reports.

FISHING

Members of the Northeast congressional delegation have joined forces to request $100 million in aid for commercial fishermen in the region. Meanwhile, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say rising water temperatures off the East Coast from North Carolina to Cape Cod are pushing cod further north. They are unsure if it is a blip on the screen or a longer-term effect of global warming.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Keller@Large says repeat drunken drivers should be treated and charged for what they are — terrorists.

Bridgewater police arrested three people and charged them with tossing six homemade bottle bombs — five of which exploded — onto a family’s lawn over the weekend in what appears to be a neighborhood dispute.

MEDIA

A Wall Street Journal analysis indicates the Red Sox, who will probably finish under .500, are threatening a record-setting Boston streak.