Puerto Rican Primary Color

by John Marino

November 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Rosselló holds hefty advantage

Nov. 9 will be a day of reckoning for former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, not because of the challenge presented by his former Transportation secretary, New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera, but because he will have to start overcoming any divisions that remain in the collective after the heated primary campaign, and he will have to start explaining to the Puerto Rican people why the corruption that flourished during administration will not be allowed to take root again.

Nobody expects Rosselló to lose Sunday -- not even I think Pesquera. And not only will he win, but he will probably win big this weekend. An El Nuevo Día poll this week gave him a 67 percent to 28 percent victory, confirming previous polls by The San Juan Star and other media and political consultants. Rosselló has done well in keeping internal divisions to a minimum by avoiding attacking his adversary or other party members during the campaign. The wide margin of victory he is expected to command will also help him in his effort to quell any internal party strife.

The corruption question looms so large because it will be the biggest issue that the Popular Democratic Party will use in attacking Rosselló, who today enjoys a 45 percent to 33 percent advantage over PDP gubernatorial candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, according to this week's poll.

In many ways, Rosselló's track record in completing large infrastructure projects and undertaking important government reforms shows he was simply better at governing than the current administration, which has failed to present a coherent vision during its three years in power of where it wants to take Puerto Rico and has been hampered by the need of La Fortaleza to sign off on just about every administrative action before it can be taken.

Rosselló is winning the debate on governing and vision hands down, one reason for his positive poll numbers. But with cases involving former officials associated with his administration working their way through federal and local courts, he will have to be as deft in talking turkey about what went wrong, why he did not know about it and how he will fix things to ensure it won't happen again this time around.

Bhatia off and running

In recent days, Eduardo Bhatia's face seems to be plastered along every street in San Juan. He's not just running against Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux in Sunday's primary, but already seems to be running against San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini in next year's general election.

The former senator, who lost a narrow election to Santini in 2000, has been campaigning non-stop since announcing he would enter the race just before the Aug 1 deadline to file candidacies. In so doing, he became the only PDP candidate to challenge Vigoreaux, who never garnered his party's leadership support, even in the days when he looked like he might be the only candidate.

Bhatia's 2000 mayoral campaign began slowly, and Santini, after trouncing then Senate President Charlie Rodríguez in a primary, looked like he was on the way to another steamroller victory. But in the weeks before Election Day, Bhatia became a ceaseless campaigner, seemingly on every corner in San Juan, and his media campaign became more attack-oriented. The momentum he rode into election day was not enough to overcome a 3,600 vote loss to Santini.

But Bhatia appears to have picked up where he left off, and has a smart, pretty new bride that is making him a more attractive candidate. Santini appears to have taken notice, and is already in campaign mode, despite the lack of primary competition, announcing new accomplishments on a daily basis.

The big questions are can Bhatia keep up the pace, and will it be enough if he can to overcome Santini? His sound trucks have been the most prevalent in San Juan of any politician running for any office, and his traffic clogging caminatas have been a weekend nuisance for more than a month. He also appears almost gleeful, at times, when attacking Santini, calling him a "complete egomaniac," for instance. Not sure if that is a plus or minus in local politics. He'll have to calm down over the long months ahead, in what promises to be one of the more interesting political races in Puerto Rico next year.

The popular Puerto Rican Independence Party candidate, Sen. Fernando Martín, could steal votes in San Juan, which has a strong block of PIP supporters. They would more likely be from Bhatia than Santini. But the quality competition means the San Juan mayor will have to defend his record as mayor, which so far has not been widely criticized by the public. In this week's poll, 51 percent of respondents gave him a grade of "A" or "B."

Resident commissioner's race goes wild

Most candidates have been citing internal polls, or signs from the street, showing they're in front in the increasingly wild and woolly four-way free-for-all that is the New Progressive Party's resident commissioner primary.

The newspaper poll this week gave Luis Fortuño a strong lead, with 48 percent of the vote, versus the 24 percent support of his nearest competitor, former Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló.

Earlier, former Senate President Charlie Rodríguez claimed internal polls showed him five points in front, while Romero Barceló, the old political warhorse, said he liked his chances, with him gaining ground on an early Fortuño lead. Sen. Miriam Ramírez de Ferrer, meanwhile, continues making a strong play for the party base by ceaselessly discussing the drive for statehood, making it a centerpiece of her campaign.

Going into their final debate this week, Luís Fortuño was still the clear front-runner, with the other three attacking him, mostly over a trip he took to Cuba as part of an official educational excursion back in 1997 aimed at spotting potential economic opportunities in a free-market Cuba without the current trade embargo. The other candidates sought to gain political capital from the recent Castro crackdown on dissidents that has been internationally condemned, but Fortuño made the point that he supported the embargo and condemned the recent actions.

Yet, it's the biggest toss up of this primary, so unprecedented is the crowded field for such an important office.

The PDP split

Despite the Popular Democratic Party's staunch insistence on picking a gubernatorial candidate without going to primaries, the PDP's internal divisions today are at least as rife as that of the pro-statehood NPP, which is having perhaps the most hotly contested races in its history.

Nothing told that better than this week's icy meeting between Gov. Calderón and Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the PDP's 2004 gubernatorial candidate. The governor apparently is still fuming from her former hand-picked running mate's active role in tanking her nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado to the Supreme Court chief justice post. But Acevedo Vilá has complaints of his own, such as his boss's intention to pass him over for private attorney José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral to take up the PDP torch she decided to pass on. It was only the former governor's son's decision to drop out of the race, over health concerns of his son, which gave Acevedo Vilá his shot at La Fortaleza.

Initially, the resident commissioner appears to have been buoyed by his strained relationship with the governor, which has allowed him to position himself as an individual apart from the administration. That's important, since the public perception is that the Calderón administration is only doing a mediocre job of governing. In this week's poll, a full 44 percent gave her a "D" or "F," 25 percent a "C" and only 28 percent an "A" or "B."

The support of the commonwealth government machinery will become more important for Acevedo Vilá going into next year's election, as will the internal PDP strife officials are trying to downplay as a tiff.

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

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback