|New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesqueras grip on his party is weaker than ever.
This week the pro-statehood Mayors Federation threw their support behind former Gov. Pedro Rosselló to run for governor in 2004 in a resolution overwhelming passed by its executive board, which said the vote corresponds to the sentiments of the vast majority of its members. Another resolution, apparently floated by Pesquera supporters, calling for him to run for resident commissioner did not get passed.
Meanwhile, even his slim support is on the wane, with some of his backers clarifying that while theyll vote for Pesquera in a primary, they wont campaign for him. San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, the NPP first vice president, said one of the reasons he publicly endorsed Rosselló is that Pesquera marginalized him by barring his participation in island-wide events. Former running mate Carlos Romero Barceló predicted Pesquera would not make it to the primary.
It might have been a bad week for Pesquera, but by no means was it unusual. Yauco Mayor Abel Nazario, a bright young face in the party who backed Pesquera, reportedly counseled him to bow out of the race. The NPP chief got a public lynching by prominent NPP leaders after he suggested that Rossellós decision to hold meetings at Santinis campaign headquarters during a recent visit to the island might constitute an illegal transfer of party funds. The criticism hit a raw nerve within the party because the Calderón campaign in the last election has been the target of the same allegations.
Members of the NPP Governing Board threatened to call for his resignation, and he was forced to postpone a planned "March of Indignation" against Gov. Calderóns administration. While Rosselló backed the idea, he said it was poorly timed and should wait until after the primaries.
When Pesquera called a press conference to offer "an important message" to Puerto Rico, camera crews and journalists flocked to the NPP headquarters in Santurce expecting his resignation. Instead, there was an announcement of the executive board meeting that voted to postpone the march.
But Pesquera keeps saying hes in the race to stay. Some reports also have him supporting a possible run by NPP Sen. Norma Burgos for the San Juan mayors seat, presenting an unexpected primary challenge to Santini. Burgos responded to reporter queries with the standard "this isnt the time to be speaking about candidacies," which probably means she is considering the idea. She is one of the few NPP leaders who have yet to take a position in the Rosselló-Pesquera primary race.
Burgos running for San Juan mayor would be an intriguing candidacy. Burgos was one of the biggest vote getters of Senate candidates in the previous election, and she also does well with voters outside her party. Her Vieques stance especially endears her to independence supporters, who form an important voting block in San Juan during general elections.
But Burgos main problem is that she is more popular outside the NPP than inside it and would never win a primary especially against a popular candidate like Santini.
Too bad shes not a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which is hard-pressed right now to field a candidate against Santini. The most promising figures José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral and Eduardo Bhatia have announced their intentions to run for the Senate. That leaves Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux, who has name recognition but nowhere near the talent to seriously challenge Santini. (PDP officials, including Calderón, have indicated there is a hunt for a "candidate of consensus.")
Practically all the NPPs top brass has lined up behind Rosselló, or say they will support whoever wins the gubernatorial primary. Only something completely unexpected could stop the former governor from facing Gov. Calderón in 2004.
Santini is solid in San Juan, ready to run against any one the PDP fields. That leaves the resident commissioners race the biggest wildcard in the NPPs primary season. Charlie Rodríguez, Kenneth McClintock, Miriam Ramírez de Ferrer, and Carlos Romero Barceló are all potential candidates.
So far Pesquera is sticking in a race he cant win, and only he knows why. Taken at his word, he wants to run for governor because he believes he has better ideas than his former boss and despite the lack of top party support, has been stumping on the island and believes he has a shot with its grassroots supporters. But most believe he wont survive the summer, after Rosselló returns to the island and begins his gubernatorial run in earnest. The chance that Pesquera is remaining in the race because he is angling for another post is also unlikely. Hes repeatedly denied hes interested in the Washington, D.C. post, which is the only one available.
John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net