As New Bedford's city solicitor for the last four years, George Leontire led his city's fight for a Steamship Authority port and fast ferry service.
When he resigned last week to enter the private sector, he promised to keep a hand in New Bedford's dealings with the Authority, including the federal lawsuit filed by the city against the SSA in November 2000 charging restraint of trade.
According to a press release issued by New Bedford city hall, Mr. Leontire will act as unpaid special counsel on all matters involving the city and the SSA. He is leaving his $50,000-a-year part-time position as city lawyer to take a job in real estate development, becoming a partner in the corporate firm Whelan Associates, the New Bedford Standard-Times reported last week.
Neither Mr. Leontire nor the city's public relations director returned calls from the Gazette this week to answer questions about the exact nature of his future role with the city.
But his tenure as the city solicitor was clearly marked by a contentious relationship not only with the Vineyard but also the port communities of Falmouth and Nantucket.
"It's been a rocky road," said state Rep. T. Eric Turkington. "Nineteen ninety-eight was when he began this attack, and the lawsuit was just one piece of the offensive. There are a couple of things about him. I was told he was a very smart guy, and that turned out to be true. But [the Steamship Authority] was an obsession for him. It became Captain Ahab going after the white whale."
Mr. Leontire expressed pride in his pugnacity at a press conference last week, covered by the Standard-Times.
"This was not an easy job. Every day for four years was a day that I got up and I frankly had to fight," he said. "The city had not learned the value of fighting for its interests. I hope that one of the things I leave as city solicitor is that we all have an obligation as a community to fight for what we believe is right and make sure our voices are heard."
Mr. Leontire, a childhood friend of New Bedford mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr., was a contract lawyer in Boston before returning to the city where he grew up. In the solicitor's post, he quickly became a vocal and aggressive advocate for making New Bedford the "Gateway to the Vineyard," arguing that it would divert traffic from the Cape and bring economic benefits to his city.
When Steamship Authority governors Grace Grossman of Nantucket and Galen Robbins of Falmouth voted against a pilot plan for fast ferry service between New Bedford and the Vineyard last October, Mr. Leontire called for their resignations, accusing them of meeting privately to forge an alliance against fast ferries. Former Vineyard SSA governor J.B. Riggs Parker voted in favor of the plan.
In January at a Falmouth Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, the Cape Cod Times recounted what it called a "tirade" by Mr. Leontire against Mr. Robbins. "Don't stand there and act like you are a friend to New Bedford," he was quoted as saying to the Falmouth representative.
Mr. Turkington said the issue of Steamship Authority service to New Bedford and the demands by the city for a greater role in SSA issues would have arisen with or without Mr. Leontire.
"But it might have been easier without George hammering on everybody," said Mr. Turkington. "I do fault him on the tactics. They were over-the-top and provocative. I don't think it helped him, but I do give him credit for the energy."
As much as Mr. Leontire antagonized some leaders on the Cape and Islands, he was widely viewed in his hometown as the one who was really calling the shots in New Bedford city government. The "power behind the throne" is what the Standard-Times called him in a front page profile published two years ago.
And the real estate firm that Mr. Leontire is going to work for will likely keep the former solicitor close to the city politics. Already, one waterfront building owned by Whelan Associates is being considered as the new office site for the city's harbor development commission, where Mr. Leontire also acted as legal counsel.
He told the Standard-Times that he would seek an opinion from the state ethics commission on whether he might have a conflict of interest on that project.