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The Orlando Sentinel



Ivan Roman of The Sentinel Staff

March 25, 1999
©Copyright 1999 The Orlando Sentinel

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Puerto Rico 's opposition Popular Democratic Party, optimistic about wresting the governor's office and legislature from a government touched by scandals, is caught up in a controversy of its own.

Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral, son of former three-term governor Rafael Hernandez Colon, has begun campaigning to be the party's candidate for resident commissioner, the island's nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress.

But he did so publicly as PDP leaders gathered privately to fine- tune a strategy for next year's election and pick a slate of party- approved candidates. According to press reports, San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon, who everyone expects will be the party's gubernatorial candidate, said that if Hernandez Mayoral is the resident commissioner candidate, she will not run.

That touched off a firestorm within the party that favors commonwealth status over statehood . The leadership has tried to fight off criticism that the selection process is closed.

Hernandez Mayoral asked the PDP leadership to agree on "clear and fair rules that allow us to have clean politics." He called for a dialogue by a council that includes more people from the party's base.

The party leadership rejected the idea at a strategy session Tuesday night.

"To impose on this party a primary fight for the candidacy of resident commissioner without first choosing our candidate for governor is putting the cart before the horse," said Rep. Anibal Acevedo Vila, president of the PDP. "If we have to go to a primary, we will go to a primary later. The sad thing is having someone force a primary in the PDP that could have been avoided."

It has been customary in Puerto Rico for party leaders to select slates before opening the candidacies to everyone.

Hernandez Mayoral continues to defend his right to run for the position to represent the 3.8 million Puerto Ricans on the island in Congress and criticizes the party's current procedure.

"I'm not doing anything improper," Hernandez Mayoral said. "If they reject the idea of a dialogue council, then they don't offer me a chance to discuss my interests and what I am doing."

For some in the party leadership and the party faithful, this controversy and trading of barbs in the newspapers and on television and radio is very ill timed.

Gov. Pedro Rossello and several other leaders, lawyers and fund- raisers of the New Progressive Party have been implicated in a misappropriation and money laundering trial involving $2.2 million in federal funds that went to the now-defunct San Juan AIDS Institute. PDP politicians have also been implicated in the trial and one former PDP senator has already declared himself guilty. Still, allegations that Rossello asked for some of those funds for his political campaign have made the biggest headlines.

As the shadow of corruption hangs above the government, many in the PDP feel their party should focus on criticizing Rossello and others in the party that favors statehood for the island.

But some think the controversy has less to do with party procedures than with Hernandez Mayoral's father and what he represents. His father served as governor from 1973 to 1977 and from 1985 to 1993, when the PDP party's candidate Victoria "Melo" Munoz lost to Rossello when he ran for his first term.

According to press reports, PDP polls say Calderon would beat Rossello in a battle for governor. She has the support of nearly all the party faithful and has much appeal across party lines.

"Some may think that {with Hernandez Mayoral) we would be going back to a time in 1992 when the people booted us out because they were not satisfied with our work," said PDP Rep. Francisco Zayas Seijo.

The controversy has the potential to solidify factions within the PDP. Party leaders are already mired in very public and bitter confrontations.

Other candidates are also coming forward. Party leaders say they hope it all dies down, and that they will continue to discuss strategy and come up with a slate among the leadership.

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