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Party Pushes Pesquera For Governor's Job

by Ivan Roman

June 14, 1999

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Citing his glasses and baby face, some call him their Clark Kent, despite his salt and pepper hair.

Drawings of him with the red Superman "S" logo on his chest have been sighted. With Gov.Pedro Rossello out of the race for 2000, some New Progressive Party faithful see Transportation and Public Works Secretary Carlos Pesquera as their hero. He could keep the Governor's Mansion from falling into the hands of the rival Popular Democratic Party.

After Rossello's surprise announcement June 1 that he wouldn't run for a third term, the NPP's leadership began 90 hours of feverish meetings, phone calls, and negotiations. A faction of younger professionals was trying to fashion a slate.

Other more veteran party loyalists quickly went into action to block the move and fight for their space. Republicans and the business elite also shifted into gear to find the ideal person.

When the dust settled, the slate seemed to have a mix, and the four candidates who had emerged for governor were whittled down to one: Pesquera.

He heads the party leadership's anointed slate nicknamed "the three C's," all named Carlos: Carlos Pesquera for governor; Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo for re-election; and Senate President Carlos "Charlie" Rodriguez for mayor of San Juan.

At his first news conference after his announcement, Rossello said he wouldn't select a successor and candidates would have to win people's support. But Pesquera was right next to him, waiting to travel with the governor on a helicopter to a groundbreaking in the mountainous central part of the island.

After the news conference, Rossello pointed to Pesquera and smiled as they got into the car to head for the heliport.

At the ceremony in Orocovis, Rossello, in characteristic fashion, danced to Puerto Rican pop star Chayanne's song "Salome" when making his entrance.

Although admittedly very stiff and not very good at it, Pesquera joined in. "He's getting the rhythm," Rossello said.

This was all on the eve of the NPP's State Central Board meeting on the island's eastern tip, where the slate with the top three was unofficially approved just five days after Rossello's announcement. Rodriguez, who also talked of running for governor, had to settle for mayor of San Juan, a position often used as a springboard to the governor's job.

Luis Fortuno, former Tourism and Government Development Bank director, had bowed out the day before. A bitter Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo, citing his disillusionment with the party leadership's wheeling and dealing, also withdrew.

"In three days I've learned more than in 30 years fighting crime and delinquents," Toledo said.

So everything seemed set. Ah, but then came a glitch. His name is Sen. Jorge Santini, a candidate for mayor of San Juan who actually lives there, unlike Rodriguez who lives in neighboring Carolina and would have to move.

High-ranking party leaders in San Juan have been pressuring Santini to step aside, calling on rank-and-file NPP activists and lobbying them to back Rodriguez and feeding the media daily reports that Santini is withdrawing.

Santini, however, is on the radio constantly, denying the rumors. Fed up with the situation, 80 angry NPP activists showed up at House Speaker Edison Misla Aldarondo's offices in the Capitol on Thursday to tell him to butt out and let the primary happen. They are tired, they say, of having an anointed candidate "imposed" on them. They say that's why San Juan hasn't had an NPP mayor since 1988.

"I'm tired of having to get up every morning and keep repeating that I have not withdrawn from the race," Santini said. "I don't want anyone to make this out to be a nasty battle when it's not. This is competition amongst brothers."

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