The PDP’s Hamlet Syndrome

by John Marino

July 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. With no official candidate for the 2004 gubernatorial election, the Popular Democratic Party suddenly finds itself without a clear leader, and has begun to act like a party adrift.

The unanimous PDP choice — José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral — held out the possibility last month that he could drop out of the race before he officially joins it because of family health concerns -- specifically his 12-year-old son’s chronic, undiagnosed abdominal pains. No clear face has risen should he finally drop out, and party leaders to a man say he’ll be the candidate.

Word to that effect could come any day now as Hernández Mayoral is expected to definitely drop out, or confirm he is following through on his political aspirations.

In fact that decision should come by week’s end. As the Aug. 1 deadline for filing candidacies approaches, it becomes more likely the son of former three-term governor Rafael Hernández Colón will run. If he were to really drop out, he owes it to the party to grant it enough time to find a suitable replacement. And that time period is quickly expiring.

But the weeks of doubt have had an effect. The holdup on the party’s gubernatorial nominee has held up other candidates from officially filing for office, even though they have publicly announced their decision to run for a specific office.

Hernández Mayoral’s pause before accepting the leadership post has also worked to underline Gov. Calderón’s loss of political power since she announced in May that she would not seek reelection.

Just this week, dissenting PDP lawmakers blocked passage of the key Calderón administration initiative of undertaking a judicial reform, and last week they blocked another La Fortaleza bill aimed at resolving a Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority long-standing legal dispute with island towns and changing the formula by which the utility compensates municipal governments.

PDP mayors are publicly fighting with each other over the PREPA issue, with the mayors of Ponce and Mayaguez staunchly opposed to a proposed settlement in the payment dispute and the mayors of Caguas and Carolina backing the agreement.

Meanwhile, Calderón’s lame-duck status has also contributed to further resignations from her administration. Recently, Dalila Aguilú, the head of the embattled Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration, suddenly resigned from office. She cited obstacles from La Fortaleza to her plans to reform the agency. Calderón’s trusted Labor Secretary Victor Rivera will also drop out of public life for personal reasons.

Besides the question mark hovering over Hernández Mayoral’s candidacy, there is also doubt over who will be the PDP candidate for San Juan mayor. The only announced candidate, Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux, has yet to win Calderón’s backing or that of the rest of the PDP hierarchy.

So many people are slated to run for the Legislature, meanwhile, that the party will definitely have to weather some hard fought battles between House and Senate aspirants.

If Hernández Mayoral does not run, a pall will be cast over the eventual PDP candidate. He or she will be considered a second choice after the party had unanimously supported the former governor’s son as the candidate. Calderón can’t possibly change her mind and decide to run after insisting repeatedly that her decision is "firm and final." The credibility problem that would result would be insurmountable.

It’s ironic that it’s the PDP with a leadership problem when it is the New Progressive Party that is facing primaries to decide its gubernatorial and resident commissioner candidates. Everyone knows that the NPP, despite the challenges the party faces, has an undisputed leader, even though it’s not NPP President Carlos Pesquera, but former Gov. Pedro Rosselló.

The primaries could still rock the party, although it’s likely to do so more in the resident commissioner race, rather than the gubernatorial race, where Rosselló has a commanding lead. And continuing investigations of public corruption under the Rosselló administration by federal officials could still mean further blows for the NPP’s chances of regaining power in 2004.

Hernández Mayoral will soon — any day now it is expected — make a definitive move one way or the other. If he goes for it, this past month may be remembered as a minor Hamlet act. But while it has not spelled out tragedy, it nonetheless has had an impact.

In the weeks that he has largely been out of the public eye, the PDP’s gubernatorial aspirant has lost the momentum engendered by the unanimous backing he received the day after Gov. Calderón announced she would not seek reelection. If he ascends to take the PDP mantel, it will at least be a more awkward transition to power than it would have been if he had gone for it right away.

Calderón’s decision not to seek reelection leaves her free to bash the past administration with glee, and the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate could be insulated from the NPP’s attack on the PDP administration, since the candidate will not be Calderón. This could be an effective political strategy against the NPP, a party trying to regain power amidst the cloud of corruption still playing itself out in island courts.

But the pause given by a high-profile PDP figure before accepting power has needlessly weakened the hand the ruling party has heading into the next elections. That is especially so since the PDP president, Gov. Calderón, bailed out of the gubernatorial contest in 2004 for not fully explained personal reasons.

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

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