Calderón Set To Battle Tweedledee And Tweedledum

by John Marino

December 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. JOHN MARINOWhat name to christen the soon to be inaugurated multi-million-dollar coliseum sprouting up in Hato Rey?

That question is leading up to yet another fistfight between La Fortaleza and Popular Democratic Party lawmakers in the Capital, which provides the best evidence yet that whether Gov. Calderón wins reelection or not in 2004, House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo and Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora will still be in danger of losing their jobs.

It’s also bringing back to the fore the strategic reasons that Calderón maybe should have listened to her old boss, former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón, when he insisted that his son be her running mate as resident commissioner. The qualities of José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral aside, the argument went, you were better off leaving Anibal Acevedo Vilá in the Capital, because of the complete absence of PDP talent in the Legislature.

It is in that void that Vizcarrondo and Fas Alzamora, have been able to climb to the leadership positions they now hold. And it’s clear that the Legislature is slowing becoming the administration’s greatest embarrassment, despite whatever mistakes it might have made in its nearly two years in power.

Calderón has clashed with her legislative leaders in the past, recently scolding them for failing to win support for her campaign finance reform initiative and for racking up too much in travel expenses, which she reportedly said reflected badly on her efforts to put forth a transparent government.

This week’s tiff stems from an apparent about-face by Fas Alzamora to an agreement he reached with the governor to name the Hato Rey structure the "Puerto Rico Coliseum." Fas Alzamora’s Senate colleagues did pass the bill, but amended it to name the building the "Felisa Rincón de Gautier National Puerto Rico Coliseum."

After a three-hour meeting between the governor and legislative leaders Wednesday, Vizcarrondo announced the House would put off action on the bill until January, leaving the name of the coliseum up in their air until then.

Originally slated to take action on the bill Tuesday, the House put it off amidst noise by some lawmakers that they will push the Senate amendment forward. Meanwhile, some minority lawmakers said the amendment is unconstitutional on procedural grounds, as only executive- sponsored legislation can be considered during the special session called by the governor.

Both Fas Alzamora and Vizcarrondo originally agreed to name the structure the "Puerto Rico Coliseum." But the Senate chief said he was later swayed by arguments by members to name it after Felisa Rincón de Gautier.

"The vote was unanimous," Fas Alzamora said.

"I added the word ‘national,’ and I don't hide the fact because I believe that this is a nation."

"It did not alter the bill’s original intention, which was to project the image of Puerto Rico internationally, because the Puerto Rico National Coliseum is the same as the Puerto Rico Coliseum," Fas Alzamora argued.

One word would not cause a rift with La Fortaleza, he argued. After all, because Dona Fela was named "Woman of the Americas" in 1974 by an organization he could not immediately name, he added, the Senate name would also work to use the coliseum to "internationalize" Puerto Rico.

But when the word is "national" in Puerto Rico, one word can change a lot, and Fas Alzamora must know this.

New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera called the amendment "immediately divisive" and said it would undermine efforts at creating unity among Puerto Ricans. Calderón responded by indicating she’d veto the measure. "I agreed to sign a law with the name the Puerto Rico Coliseum and that’s the law I’m going to sign," she said.

Vizcarrondo, meanwhile, said the House was still analyzing the measure and later said it would put off the issue until January, unless a compromise can be reached in the current special session.

The real problem with the coliseum name debate is that it is such a non-issue at a time when serious debate is needed on a number of subjects, from the economy to status to Vieques.

The success or failure of the coliseum will have nothing to do with its name and everything with its management.

One smart way to tank this issue from public debate would be to do what thousands of cities across the United States are doing — selling the name, and marketing rights, to a private company, which would probably work better to put Puerto Rico in the international spotlight than anything the government could come up with.

But something tells me that will never happen.

The governor has a lot on her plate, and I can’t imagine she’s too happy about the PDP-controlled Legislature, which is providing more problems than solutions.

This week’s meeting was a disaster. Not only was the coliseum issue unresolved, Calderón had to veto the Christmas bonus legislation granting commonwealth workers a $125 increase this year because the Legislature inserted a clause extending the right to municipal employees.

The provision called for the commonwealth to pay for 50 percent of the municipal increase, a $3.8 million cost. But because central government agencies are paying the increases through budget cuts, the administration was unwilling to have them cough up more funds for municipal workers.

The Christmas bonus will still be given to employees, but through executive order, not legislation.

Calderón is also reportedly ticked off by lawmaker travels. Fas Alzamora is growing into one of the biggest offenders. This week he defended a Mexican junket by saying that a regional political group passed a Vieques resolution and elected Senate Vice President Velda González to a position — as if these were good enough reasons to travel on taxpayer funds.

La Fortaleza, in turn, has reportedly refused to accept about 200 laws passed by the House and Senate last week, so as not to start the clock ticking on the 10 days the governor has to sign them or veto them.

Given current relations, one should expect to see many measures nixed by the governor.

Moreover, during the remaining two years of her term, Calderón will no doubt work to hold more closely to her campaign platform both Fas Alzamora and Vizcarrondo, who in have given the impression of being oddly out of touch with the electorate for legislative leaders.

The governor has much more important things to worry about than the annoying controversies created under the leadership of Vizcarrondo and Fas Alzamora.

And — more importantly, perhaps — there is a strong, long tradition in Puerto Rico of governors maintaining an iron-fisted rule over their legislatures. One can expect Calderón over the next two years to try and prove she can fulfill that tradition. Until the 2004 elections take root firmly late next year, the La Fortaleza-Capitol battle is sizing up to be the most watched political fight on the island.

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

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