Report From Occupied America: Lawrence, Massachusetts—A Banana Republic in New England

One evening, in a quiet seaside town in northern Massachusetts, Marco Tejeda pulled a black ski mask over his face and knocked on the front door of a single-family home. When the homeowner answered, Tejeda hit the man over the head with a baseball bat, then struck him repeatedly as he lay on the floor. Tejeda seized some cash and some prescription medication before fleeing. Tejeda was a  legal immigrant--his father works for the Dominican consulate.

Fortunately, the police arrested Marco Tejeda quickly, and the judge ordered him held without bail. [Police link two Haverhill men to Salisbury home invasion, By Angeljean Chiaramida, Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, August 6, 2010]

But Tejeda had an ace up his sleeve: He submitted to the court a character reference from none other than William Lantigua, Mayor of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the most influential Hispanic politician in the state.

The letter, written on mayoral stationary, was addressed “To whom it may concern” and described Marco Tejeda as “a hardworking individual with a strong set of values and high ethical standards.” [Lantigua endorsee a suspect in assault, By Maria Sacchetti and Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe, April 26, 2011]

This was not the first character reference that Mayor Lantigua has written for a criminal constituent. Lantigua also vouched for the character of a man charged with armed robbery, and another man charged with assaulting and robbing his own mother. Moreover, these character references were written immediately after the men were arrested for their crimes.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There were high hopes for William Lantigua when he was inaugurated mayor last year—at least among his Hispanic and white liberal supporters.

A former “community organizer”, William Lantigua was elected state representative from Lawrence in 2002. He then quickly became the de facto Hispanic leader in Massachusetts, and very popular with the local establishment. Hobnobbing with Lantigua allowed the state’s white elite to burnish their credentials among Hispanics and, more importantly, among other white liberals.

Beacon Hill is the perfect place for a token minority legislator. All you have to do is fall in line with the Democratic leadership and pose for pictures at public events.

In 2009, however, William Lantigua decided to run for mayor of Lawrence. Being mayor is a demanding job with real responsibilities, especially in a city like Lawrence.

Situated on the Merrimack River, Lawrence was once a thriving, blue-collar city with several prosperous factories and textile mills. But those industries began to gradually decline after World War II. During the 1970s, just as the jobs began to leave the city, immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico began to move in.

The people of Lawrence certainly never voted for this demographic change and by August 8, 1984, the situation had reached critical mass.

On that afternoon, a group of Hispanic men brutally attacked a white man, and within hours the incident had escalated into a full blown race riot. [Video]

Soon whites and Hispanics were standing on opposite sides of a downtown street. The whites shouted “USA! USA!” The Hispanics responded by hurling Molotov cocktails and firing shotguns. Many homes and businesses were broken into, looted, and even burned to the ground.

The police told the hundreds of frantic citizens who called that night that they were powerless to protect them. Many people barricaded themselves inside their homes, wedging furniture against the doors. Many others actually ran into the police station and huddled inside. It was three days before state and local police were able to restore order.

In the aftermath, liberals like Governor Mike Dukakis and Senator Paul Tsongas visited the city and talked about the need for “dialogue” and “bridge-building.” Bishop Bernard Law said a multilingual “healing mass” in French, Spanish, and English.

Most whites knew that there was no bridge to be built and simply abandoned Lawrence altogether. Today, Lawrence (population 77,000) is about 75% Hispanic. Whites, who made up the vast majority of the city only a generation ago, now exist in dwindling numbers on its south side.

No one likes to mention those ’84 Riots anymore. In fact, until recently, Massachusetts elites often spoke as if the Hispanicization of Lawrence was something to celebrate—a pretense that has become very difficult to maintain over the past year.

In 2009, the Massachusetts establishment, including Senator John Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick, and Rep. Nikki Tsongas, aggressively campaigned for William Lantigua over his respectable white opponent, David Abdoo.

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo publicly boasted of his chummy friendship with Lantigua and promised the voters that this election would enable Lawrence to move past its troubled history and “make Lawrence a world class city.” [Video]

In short, the Massachusetts political establishment sold William Lantigua to the entire state as the post-racial Hispanic leader—and for good reason. Soon after the election Gov. Deval Patrick announced a $35 million bailout package for Lawrence. After all, diversity doesn’t come cheap.

Nevertheless, Mayor Lantigua echoed this post-racial theme in his inaugural address, delivered in both English and Spanish, by vowing to be the mayor for all the people, who only “happens to be Latino.”

In reality, apart from the photo-ops with the state’s Democratic machine, William Lantigua’s campaign style was distinctly South American. He refused to debate his white opponent and proposed virtually no agenda for governing. He was the Latino candidate, and the other guy was white. What else did you need to know?

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what Lantigua would have campaigned on. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Lantigua speaks poor English and received only a seventh grade education in his home country. So it only makes sense that Lantigua did most of his campaigning in the Spanish language media.

In fact, William Lantigua also did a lot of campaigning in the Dominican Republic village of Tenares, the hometown of thousands of people who now live and vote in Lawrence. Lantigua frequently visits Tenares and regularly calls in to their local radio show. He has even received the keys to the city.

Given the almost rock star status that Lantigua enjoys in Tenares, its people aggressively lobbied their relatives in Lawrence on behalf of his candidacy. “He wouldn’t have won without the support from Tenares,” an official from Tenares told The Boston Globe. [Distant city enjoyed Lantigua largesse | Donated vehicles and political connections are part of ongoing inquiry, by Maria Sacchetti, June 26, 2011]

However, it remains unclear just what Lantigua promised in return for this support. What is clear is that soon after his inauguration a garbage truck arrived in Tenares, as well as a school bus and some police vehicles. While we do not yet know who paid for these vehicles, we do know who has received credit for them: William Lantigua.

Another interesting form of what Lantigua calls “voter outreach” is his patronage of Lawrence’s growing Latino nightlife.

Some might think it strange for a 56 year old married father of four to spend his nights dancing with scantily-clad women at nightclubs. And Lantigua has close ties to some of the city’s most violent establishments.

For example, when Richard Nunez had difficulty obtaining a permit for his proposed nightclub, La Guira, Lantigua publicly testified before the licensing board that Nunez was a “hardworking and a good family man.”

Soon after La Guira opened, two people were shot to death inside. Nunez had to close La Guira for two weeks. But when it reopened, he threw a party with Lantigua as the guest of honor.

Given his many shady friendships, is it any surprise that Mayor Lantigua has a growing reputation for voter intimidation?

One Lantigua critic, Antonio Arevalo, actually tried to take out a restraining order against the mayor but was denied. He was later publicly beaten by a 6’9 bouncer from La Guira who broke his arm for being a “snitch.” [See video]

Mayor Lantigua has also promoted a hostile relationship between the public and the police—a popular stance among his many lawless supporters. He even told a Spanish-language radio station that the police were probably going to frame him by planting incriminating evidence on him.

Indeed, despite the $35 million state loan, Mayor Lantigua slashed the police budget, forcing the layoff of 41 police officers. Violent crime has consequently soared and Lawrence is now the car theft capital of Massachusetts.

In the meantime, budget cuts have not affected William Lantigua’s lifestyle. The mayor’s ex-wife, current wife, daughter, and live-in girlfriend all work for the city. In fact, despite his $100,000 salary, Lantigua and his girlfriend have been receiving federal fuel assistance for their downtown condominium.

The good news is that opposition to Mayor Lantigua is definitely growing and a recent “Recall Lantigua” campaign nearly collected enough signatures to force a vote. Unfortunately, Lantigua led a successful “Yo No Firmo” (I Won’t Sign) counter-campaign that stymied the effort. It also didn’t help that many of the submitted signatures were declared invalid because the foreign-born signatories only signed their names with an “X”.

It may not matter anyway. Federal and state authorities are now investigating William Lantigua, and indictments appear to be imminent.

After William Lantigua leaves office, the press and the political establishment will again claim that this is an opportunity for Lawrence to “move forward.” But that is unlikely.

The reality is that William Lantigua will likely be replaced by someone not markedly better. One does not find a lot of responsible self-government in Latin America, and it is naïve to think that we can transplant Latin Americans here en masse and expect them to suddenly behave like the rest of the country.

The real victims of this tragic immigration disaster are the native-born Americans good of Lawrence, who have had to watch this once respectable working-class city be transformed into a lawless banana republic in little more than a generation.

Matthew Richer (email him) is a writer living in Massachusetts. He is the former American Editor of Right NOW magazine.