|Political Winds Already Blowing For 2004
For Herald readers who complain that election campaigning and associated reporting begin too early read no more!
This weeks Hot Button Poll asks you to gauge the ultimate force and direction of the political winds already forming that will build into a hurricane expected to hit Puerto Rico sometime before November of 2004. This week you may speculate as to who will be blown into office as Puerto Ricos next Governor.
We take it as a given that Sila Calderon will seek reelection under the banner of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP). We also assume that the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) will run a candidate, perhaps its perennial choice, PIP Senator Ruben Berrios, whose campaign will amount to no more than a nuisance factor, as it makes its usual appeal to the statistically tiny base of "Independentistas" and to a tiny chunk of the PDPs extreme left wing.
The New Progressive Party (NPP), reeling from corruption charges going back to the previous administration of NPP Governor Pedro Rossello, is already sifting through the political tea leaves to divine the candidate for 2004 with the best shot at sending Ms. Calderon into early retirement. Already, some NPP hopefuls are publicly positioning themselves as possibilities, while others are maintaining a coy "no comment" which, in political speak, means they are considering it or have not ruled it out.
Four prominent NPP politicians become obvious potential opponents to the incumbent Governor. The first, and presumptive front-runner, is the Partys President, Carlos Pesquera, who lost to Sila Calderon in the 2002 gubernatorial race. In a July 2002 attempt to "show the flag" and bolster the morale of statehood advocates, he placed "Old Glory" in the lobby of the Womens Advocate Office whose Director, Maria Dolores Fernos, had refused to display it. He is now facing trial on serious charges for misconduct during the subsequent confrontation with PDP officials. His guilt or innocence will affect his candidacy, since convicted felons cannot run for office under Puerto Rican election law. Ironically, a recent preference poll conducted by Puerto Rico researcher Pablo Ramos showed that, of the 2,350 randomly selected respondents who expressed a clear choice, Pesquera beat Calderon by 4 percentage points.
Running the City of San Juan, a traditional launching pad for the Governors seat, is Mayor Jorge Santini, Vice President of the NPP, whose silence about 2004 is deafening to his boosters. They feel that he would run an even better campaign against his predecessor as Mayor of the islands largest city. Santini is popular and has not hesitated to butt heads with Gov. Calderon on municipal projects that he has favored and she has opposed. He is free of scandal and his approval ratings are high. When asked about plans to run for a term in the Forteleza, he always defers to Pesquera, but insiders say that he says it with his fingers crossed.
Far from the penetrating rays of Puerto Ricos sun, former 2-term Governor Pedro Rossello has found a faculty office at a Washington, D.C. university in which to hibernate. There he has been sheltered from the cross currents of NPP bickering and the testimony of former colleagues now standing trial or under investigation by federal prosecutors for bribery and influence peddling during his terms in office. So far, Rossello has not been implicated in any wrongdoing and he pleads innocent of any knowledge of the crooked dealings of his subordinates. Silent for almost a year after he stepped down, Rossello is now beginning to speak out on Puerto Rican issues in lectures and radio interviews. He is contemplating filing a federal lawsuit to give Puerto Ricans on the island a vote in the U.S. Presidential elections. The phrase, "candidate for Governor," has not crossed his lips in public.
And then there is "Carlos," the former two-term Governor, Resident Commissioner and Mayor of San Juan, Carlos Romero Barcelo, who is the NPPs "man for all seasons" and is always a factor. Few in Puerto Rico can recall an election in which "El Caballo" (The Horse) was not running for something. It would be unsurprising to see his name on the NPP ticket in 2004, running for Governor if a compromise candidate is sought or for a repeat as Resident Commissioner in Washington. Since his defeat in the 2000 elections, he has been practicing law and defending himself against an accusation made to the Federal Elections Committee (FEC) by his opponent in the race, the current Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, that he accepted an illegal contribution of 175 thousand dollars in their electoral contest for the office. He is a frequent critic of Governor Calderons policies and a staunch defender of his party.
If a day is a lifetime in politics, then two years is an eternity. Surely other names will come to the fore and it is possible that the NPP may actually hold a primary election to choose a candidate. For now, however, its your chance to rate the frontrunners in the NPPs campaign and assess their chances of winning.
Who do you think will win the governorship of Puerto Rico in 2004? Please vote and let us know!