|It's not easy to feel sorry for Edwin Mundo, an acid-tongued veteran lawmaker who has the look and combative style of a political bulldog.
But thanks to House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo & Company, a wave of public sympathy for Mundo has been pouring out all week.
Mundo, who along with three other New Progressive Party officials is facing rioting charges stemming from the June 20 flag-raising incident at the Women'sAffairs Advocate Office, won last Sunday a special NPP election to fill the House seat left vacant by the resignation of Angel Cintrón.
But the Popular Democratic Party House delegation led by Vizcarrondo has decided not to swear him into office until a special committee investigates his "legal capacity" to serve office. The move, taken because of the criminal charge he faces, is not only an affront to Mundo, but to the more than 100,000 NPP members who voted in the election to fill the at-large seat.
"The House is the only judge of the capacity of its members," Vizcarrondo said in announcing the move.
Perhaps Vizcarrondo has spent too much time peering out of the tinted windows of his official vehicle -- outfitted with a driver and paid for, of course,with public funds. His statement wreaks of paternalism and provides ample evidence that he has lost touch with the people who put him in office.
He should remember that the legislative body he heads is called the House of Representatives. The PDP may have won the last elections, capturing not only La Fortaleza but majorities in the House and Senate, which made it possible for Vizcarrondo to take over the plushest office in the House. But the body was established to be representatives of the people, even those who voted for the "verbally aggressive" and "disrespectful" Mundo, as PDP Electoral Commissioner Carlos López Feliciano has called him.
Vizcarrondo, however, is acting as if the House of Representatives is some kind of private club, and that its members have veto power over who enters and who does not.
Vizcarrondo ought to know that representatives don't have this power; only voters, exercising their democratic right in the sanctity of a ballot box, have it.
A lot of people dislike Edwin Mundo, who entered the House in 1993 and rose to become Vice President in 1999. A combative lawmaker, who also has clashed with his own party, he was a ceaseless critic of Gov. Calderón during his last term, when she was San Juan mayor.
Many attribute his loss in the 2000 elections to his reliance on mudslinging and attacking opposition candidates. The NPP loss, many said, was at least partially attributable to the attack-mentality that Mundo and others embodied.
Some eyewitnesses to the flag-raising incident have stated that things really got out of hand when Mundo bought a chain and was going to lock the staff inside the office from which the NPP supporters were barred entry. But he will have his day in court and should not be punished, if at all, before then.
Mundo is a political survivor and his PDP colleagues in the House should know that by now. Even the loss in the elections didn't keep Mundo from being a force in the Capitol, as he won advisory contracts from his ex-NPP colleagues who managed to win reelection. Those contracts were cancelled by Vizcarrondo after Mundo was charged with rioting.
When Angel Cintrón announced he would resign his seat, Mundo immediately pounced at the chance. He won cleanly against two opponents, gaining 60 percent of the vote.
It's not clear why Vizcarrondo is leading his delegation down this dubious legal path. But he seems hell-bent on making it, even after Mundo pledged to resign his seat should he be convicted on the rioting charge.
Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Víctor García San Inocencio said it best when he said the PDP move "violates three basic principles: Mundo's presumption of innocence, the presumption that the majority must protect the right of minorities and the principle that no one should be punished for his ideas."
Privately, some PDP lawmakers say that the decision was made to hold up his swearing in because they believe there won't be enough votes to fulfill a two-thirds requirement to expel Mundo if he is found guilty of rioting.
But if they want to take the moral high-ground, they should at least swear Mundo in now, then start ethics proceedings against him based on the rioting charge. Former Sen. Nicolás Nogueras was booted from office while facing tax evasion charges, even though he ultimately prevailed in court on the issue.
What is mystifying to many political observers is why the PDP is so worried about Mundo.
Sure he will spend his days and nights attacking the Calderón administration and his PDP colleagues. But while Mundo's mouth has endeared him to voters participating in an internal NPP election, it may continue to hurt him, as well as his colleagues, when it comes to general elections.
Regardless of the motivations involved here, the move to bar Mundo will come back to burn Vizcarrondo and the PDP. If he is not sworn in by Friday, Mundo will file suit to occupy his seat and he will almost certainly prevail.
The voters have spoken, and they chose Mundo. Vizcarrando should listen to their voices, not the echoes of his own pronouncements and those of his legal advisors reverberating in the halls of the Capitol.
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