By Keith Eddings
---- — It was a long way to the podium for Mayor William Lantigua last night as he tried to deliver his annual State of the City address to the crowded chambers of the City Council.
Lantigua entered on time at 7 p.m., escorted by his wife, Lorenza Ortega, and Joel Chalas, a public works foreman who is also one of his political lieutenants. The three took seats on a bench at the rear of the chambers to wait for Council President Frank Moran to call the mayor to the microphone up front.
But council protocol requires that members of the public are the first invited to speak, and two residents who regularly use the invitation to blast Lantigua — along with a city councilor who also is a sharp critic of the mayor — hustled from their seats last night to deliver their bi-weekly scoldings, made a little more delicious for them this time by the mayor’s presence.
“If he hands out roses tonight, watch out for the thorns,” said Dick Russell, after scolding Lantigua for botching appointments to the Licensing Board, firing a city worker with a terminally ill wife so he could give his job to a political ally and other alleged infractions.
“Stop making our government a laughing stock across the state,” Councilor Marc Laplante said, accusing Lantigua of hiring hacks, cutting services and “embarrassing us repeatedly in 2012.”
When the scoldings were over, Lantigua had to wait a little longer as the council voted to suspend its rules so that an item on the agenda could be heard ahead of Lantigua.
The vote allowed Councilor Kendrys Vasquez to present proclamations to two beauty queens who were to leave in the morning for Miami to compete in a beauty pageant.
Lantigua was next.
In his first full minute at the podium, Lantigua, wearing a conservative pin-stripped suit and a vibrant blue shirt and tie, stood in silence while switching his glare between his notes, his water bottle and nine bemused city councilors.