Pesquera’s Real Challenge To Rosselló

by John Marino

October 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Since former Gov. Pedro Rosselló announced his return to local politics earlier this year, he immediately became a shoe-in to become his party’s gubernatorial nominee and was widely seen as the most formidable candidate in next year’s general elections.

For political opponents, Rosselló suddenly became the man to beat.

Most of the New Progressive Party faithful immediately fell into line in backing the former two-term governor, whose eight years in power were marked by the construction of huge infrastructure projects, sweeping government reforms and ceaseless attention to the island’s unresolved political status.

It was only a matter of time, many observers said, before NPP President Carlos Pesquera threw in the towel and dropped his gubernatorial aspirations in response to the reappearance of his former boss.

But that did not happen. Pesquera stayed in the race despite the defection of key supporters to the Rosselló camp and despite the resources the former governor appeared to command almost immediately.

There has been much speculation as to why Pesquera is still a candidate, despite the star power of Rosselló, which has garnered NPP institutional support as well as strong backing from the party’s rank and file.

Some say he was looking for a graceful exit, perhaps an offer of a resident commissioner’s candidacy, that never appeared. Others speculate he was simply biding his time, banking on the possibility that further allegations of corruption under the Rosselló administration would prompt the former governor to drop out of the race.

Even if Rosselló smokes Pesquera as expected in the Nov. 9 primary, the corruption charges brought against former members of his administration are still his weakest spot, sure to be a target of the opposition Popular Democratic Party in next year’s gubernatorial campaign. .

When asked about his motivations, during a recent round of interviews with newspaper editors and reporters, Pesquera said he just believes he is the best candidate for the job.

"If this was the Rosselló of 1992, I would say, ‘no problem. Go ahead and run.’" Pesquera said. "But I’m running against the Pedro Rosselló of 2000."

Pesquera argues the NPP needs new blood, saying that Rosselló had grown weary of governing during his eight years in office -- a criticism launched against just about every governor in recent history at the end of their terms in office.

He pointed to Rosselló’s firing of his Family secretary over press leaks, his insistence in constructing a huge monument, known derisively as ITALIC"el caracol," or seashell, and his increasing battles with the press in 2000 to prove his point.

And he is trying to paint himself as the statehood leader who stayed at home to tend to the collective after its defeat at the polls in 2000, and that Rosselló was the leader who flew the coop to pursue academic activities stateside.

The portrait glosses over Pesquera’s sudden resignation as NPP president, during the winter following his 2000 defeat, and his eight-month return to private life. Afterwards, he just as suddenly returned to the NPP to reclaim the presidency and declare himself the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2000.

I always suspected that Pesquera’s return to head the NPP and his announcement of his gubernatorial aspirations, so early for a serious candidate, may have been aimed at blocking a Rosselló return, but Pesquera denies it, saying he found out for sure that Pedro was back along with the rest of Puerto Rico.

He does admit to a premonition, the night before Rosselló’s announcement that he would run for governor in 2004, in which the former governor came to him in a dream and said, "Carlos, you’re the only one who doesn’t know I’m coming back to challenge you."

Since then, the former Transportation chief says that his campaign has been "beautiful," allowing him ample time to cultivate grass roots support through personal visits on his non-stop trips around the island.

Much has been made this week in the local press about a tiff between the gubernatorial rivals centering on the corruption scandal under Ports while Rosselló was governor and Pesquera was Ports Board of Directors Chair. But the case is a tempest in a teacup. It was Rosselló’s Justice Department, after receiving audits passed on by Pesquera, which busted former Ports chief Hermán Sulsona and his cronies.

Pesquera’s real challenge this week to Rosselló has nothing to do with his highly publicized demand for an apology from his former boss, but with his continuing primary campaign, where he is pressing the flesh with party faithful, as well as with more independent minded voters, to ask for their support.

Many of them, Pesquera says, are saying they will support him because he was the one who stuck around when times were tough. The grass roots reach of his current campaign is much deeper than it was in his unsuccessful run for La Fortaleza in 2000, he adds.

But the gubernatorial hopeful won’t give too much credence to polls, leaked recently by his staff, which show an alleged tightening race for governor within the statehood party.

Rosselló remains poised for victory. But he has been forced to pay attention to the Pesquera campaign and its quiet drive for supporters.

A lot is being made over the potential harm to party unity that could be caused by the contested NPP primaries for governor and resident commissioner, but the party is benefiting from the process. Their nominees will be much better candidates when it will count next year for having had earned their primary colors.

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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