Silence In La Fortaleza

by John Marino

October 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Since returning from her European honeymoon a week early, Gov. Calderón has given only a handful of public appearances.

One was her paid televised address defending her Chief Justice nominee Ferdinand Mercado, and the other was a press conference, where Calderón took few questions in announcing she was withdrawing the nomination of her secretary of state because the Popular Democratic Party Senate delegation was one vote shy on confirmation.

The third, bizarrely, was a presentation by Health Secretary Johnny Rullán on the integration of the public health system given to Calderón at La Fortaleza. It was photo op only, as reporters were not even allowed to attend. This was followed by a luncheon with print media, where photos were not allowed. The governor declined to answer questions over the Supreme Court chief justice vacancy or Mercado were declined. She reiterated her statement that she was not considering any candidates at this time and declined to give a time frame as to when she would fill the vacancy.

Mercado, who gave a one-line statement, talked to reporters off the record briefly and declined to be photographed shortly after the governor’s press conference last Friday, is seconding the low profile.

At one level, hanging low has been a smart thing to do; such was the furor the Mercado nomination caused across Puerto Rico, including within the governor’s Popular Democratic Party.

And it can be also seen as gracious. As Calderón has stepped out of the public spotlight, she has, unwittingly or not, allowed Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá to increase his stature by leading discussions on important developments such as the more favorable terms surrounding the closure of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads and other issues. That’s good for the PDP president and 2004 gubernatorial candidate.

She also appears to be allowing her Cabinet members to assert themselves more, and to take a leading role in the public debate surrounding their areas of expertise. It’s a good strategy, and one wishes it was undertaken a year or so ago.

But clearly the governor’s ultra-low public profile has to end soon, and Calderón needs to, and will probably, reassert her authority in the role of governor.

That’s when many questions lingering over her administration today will be answered. Will she renominate Mercado after the November primary election, thinking the changed political landscape would be enough to push him through to confirmation?

Or will she do, what many had hoped she would do in the first place, and nominate a chief justice who is respected for his judicial, rather than political, achievement and who shows he deserves the job by presenting evidence of the mastery of his craft.

More importantly, time will tell whether Calderón starts acting like the head of the commonwealth administration once again, because a chief executive is needed during the last year of her term. If for nothing else, it would squash those nasty rumors about her impending resignation, which she made sure to deny in her few public outings this week.

Rosselló’s NPP Power Plays

The New Progressive Party Governing Board agreed to adopt rules this week that primary participants had to first affiliate themselves with the NPP by filling out a card – if they were not already affiliated by having voted in previous primaries or otherwise assumed party affiliation.

The effect, critics say, is null. Voting in the primary proves the same thing as filling out the card does. But the action was really the latest sign of "who the real president of the NPP is" in the current primary gubernatorial battle between former Gov. Pedro Rosselló and his former Transportation secretary, the titular head of the party, Carlos Pesquera.

Clearly, Rosselló is prevailing in the pre-November power struggle. The action by the NPP board follows denouncements by Rosselló 2004 Campaign officials accusing Pesquera of trying to woo Popular Democratic Party voters to support him in the NPP primary.

Last month, at an NPP General Assembly meeting in Yauco, the assembly voted in favor of a Rosselló initiative blocking the party’s president from running for governor that would take effect in 2005. It was another party battle won by Rosselló, who had unsuccessfully tried to write the prohibition into Puerto Rico election law during his first term in office, which started in 1993.

Nothing on the horizon appears able to even remotely threaten the conventional wisdom that Rosselló will win, and probably win big, in November. And he has rather nimbly stayed focused on attacking the "Calderón-Acevedo Vilá" administration, rather than creating internal political wars in the NPP. Rosselló appears well positioned for 2004.

The big questions are why Pesquera is insisting on fighting an uphill primary battle until the end and what his real plans are for next year.

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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