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December 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 
This week’s Hot Button Poll asks readers to select the Herald’s political personality of 2002 by choosing one among the four candidates that, in the opinion of Herald editors, have had a major influence over events relating to Puerto Rico over the past year. The winner will be featured in this year’s final edition.

The four candidates offered for your choice are Governor Sila Calderon, New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera, New York Congressman Jose Serrano and San Juan Federal Prosecutor, Guillermo Gil. Following are brief statements of the reasoning that went into each selection.

If you are unhappy with all of the candidates, vote for "other" and add your own comments to the message board after voting.


The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderon, is clearly a candidate for possible selection as the Puerto Rican Political Personality of the Year. Each day, on the front pages of island newspapers and in the copy of local radio and TV news reporting, her every utterance becomes the balm of supporters and the hemlock for opponents. 2002 has seen the Governor modestly engaged on the island but very active on the U.S. mainland. Also, she has "gripped and grinned" with foreign leaders in an attempt to put the U.S. territory on an equal footing with sovereign nations in international conferences.

Three issues especially recommend the Governor for consideration as the top choice. They are Vieques, the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Puerto Rico Constitution and her political forays into mainland partisan politics. A review of U.S. press reporting indicates that she is hitting one for three. Island media give her a slightly better average. The Forteleza, of course, says that she’s "batting a thousand." Herald readers will pick her or cut her depending on how they think her approach to these matters did, or did not, benefit the constituency that put her in office, the some 4-million American citizens residing on the island of Puerto Rico. They will decide if she enters this year’s "hall of fame" or, in a virtual sense, is sent back to the minors.

Viewing her performance objectively, her Vieques performance seems to have been a wash. Although it is likely that the Navy will pull out next April, it is in no part a result of any influence that she brought to bear in Washington. Essentially, she is managing the same deal that her predecessor, Pedro Rossello, made with the former President, Bill Clinton. Her attempt to use the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Puerto Rico Constitution to sanctify the Commonwealth status as permanent and sovereign, however, was clearly a flop. Her Unity and Consensus Committee had a short and unproductive life and she could not convince the U.S. Congress to speak of the island’s present political status in glowing terms. A bright spot for the Governor was her initiative to engage the mainland political process by focusing on the potential political strength of the some 3-million Puerto Ricans living in U.S. Congressional districts. Working through Puerto Rican government representational offices in key American cities, over 75,000 new voters were registered and the campaign is continuing. The White House and Capitol Hill took notice.


Jose Serrano (D-NY), representing New York’s Sixteenth District in the Bronx, makes the Herald’s list of prominent Puerto Rican politicians of 2002 by virtue of his long advocacy of the island and the stand he took in opposition to a Congressional Resolution recognizing the 50th year of the Puerto Rico Constitution (H. CON. RES 395). "We should not be recognizing a colony," he declaimed from the well of the House of Representatives, as the resolution was being debated in July. This displeased Governor Calderon who was in Washington the same day heralding the greatness of the Commonwealth concept.

Conversely, Serrano was outraged at the Governor’s campaign to register mainland Puerto Ricans for the 2002 mid-term elections. He labeled her effort "partisan" and refused to rub shoulders with Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, both Republicans, at her kick-off press conference in New York City. He and the Governor do agree on the issue of Vieques, however, and he has been a strong voice in opposition to the Navy’s use of the island as a training facility.

Jose Serrano, 59, was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and spent his boyhood on the island until his parents moved the family to the Bronx when he was 7. He is a U.S. Army veteran and a graduate of the City University of New York. The Congressman, who is the most senior of Puerto Rican Members of the House, is known for his advocacy of civil rights, a principle that energizes his effort to move Congress towards legislation to provide Puerto Rico with a self-determination process and was a leader in the Young Bill debates in 1997-98. He is a member of the prestigious House Committee on Appropriations and, in the last Congress, was the Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary. He will begin his 8th consecutive term in January of 2003.


Although much in the spotlight, New Progressive Party (NPP) President, Carlos Pesquera, might be the loneliest politician in Puerto Rico. As the standard bearer for the once proud, but now humiliated, statehood-favoring political party, it has fallen to him to counter the separatist messages flowing from Fortaleza and Capitol legislative chambers. His theme has been that U.S. citizenship comes with responsibilities. Often his has been the only prominent pro-U.S. voice heard, as other NPP luminaries have taken a pass on thorny issues.

Recently, for example, he defended the right of the U.S. Government to solicit military draft information on students from institutions receiving federal funds, such as the University of Puerto Rico. His has been a moderate voice in the often shrill debate over Vieques and a steadfast one in the defense of the NPP, arguing that the political corruption scandals of the Rossello Administration were perpetrated by a few greedy officials, outside of the Party’s discipline.

In spite of the inherent distastefulness of these and other appeals, he has managed to retain his popularity with a party faithful that, in recent polls, have seen him as the individual most likely to defeat Sila Calderon in a 2004 rematch of his defeat by her in 2000, even though she now holds the pump to fuel a local government propaganda campaign against him. She also wheels influence over the local justice system and it is in that venue that Pesquera’s political future resides.

In July, Pesquera, with an American flag thrust before him, led a phalanx of pro-statehood advocates and the press into a government office whose administrator had refused to display it alongside the flag of Puerto Rico. The ensuing scuffle with resisting employees led to public nuisance charges that Pesquera is now fighting in local courts. If convicted, local election law could bar him from launching another candidacy for Governor in 2004. The incident did win favor for him among NPP activists that were unhappy with his measured opinions on Vieques.

Carlos Pesquera, an engineer with graduate degrees from Cornell University, came to politics as a first-term Rosselló appointee in the post of Director of Transportation and Public Works. In what was seen as lightning speed for Puerto Rico, the public began to witness roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects inaugurated and completed. Pesquera was the father of the Urban Train project, the ambitious public transportation project that the current Governor, Sila Calderon, is cutting opening ribbons for today. By the end of Rossello’s two terms, it was the efficient technocrat, Pesquera, who emerged as the party leader to replace him. Ahead in the polls until the eve of the election, his defeat is seen as tied to the corruption investigations of Rossello officials that were already underway in November, 1999.


The Herald’s remaining choice for the year’s most prominent political personality is not himself an elected official although he has gained the respect – sometimes grudging – of every politician on the island. U.S. Justice Department attorney, Guillermo Gil, since 1999 has been investigating, indicting and prosecuting Puerto Rican politicians who presently or formerly held elected office. Charges have included accepting bribes for political access, taking kick-backs on government contracts and illegally diverting money into political campaigns.

Until last year, Gil was Acting U.S. Attorney, when the Bush Administration sent veteran U.S. Attorney Humberto Garcia, a Mexican American, to San Juan to head up the office. The new chief has left Mr. Gil in charge of the investigations of corrupt officials, meaning that he has remained a lightning rod for criticism, mainly by NPP officials. Former Governor Pedro Rossello, who accused Gil of trying to influence the Gubernatorial elections of 2002, has recently requested the Justice Department to launch an investigation of the controversial investigator. Rossello and others maintain that he has been biased in going after mainly NPP former officials in an attempt to "ruin" the party. There have been indictments filed against PDP local officials, including some that touch upon Governor Calderon’s campaign, but the number is relatively small in comparison to former Rossello appointees.

Guillermo Gil, as a public servant, has had little to say in his own defense, but Governor Calderon has praised him on numerous occasions, words that undoubtedly give him little comfort in San Juan’s partisan environment. Gil has been a significant political figure in 2002 by simply doing his job in enforcing the law. As a result of his successful convictions, the NPP has been thrown into restructuring as it plans the defeat of Sila Calderon in 2004, while she is formulating expensive campaign financing legislation in an attempt to put herself and her party above the fray.

It is rare that the nine-to-five work of a federal government employee has had, in 2002, such an impact on a local government. There are, no doubt, a few still indicted public officials in Puerto Rico hoping that he will take a few days off from work.

Who is your choice for Puerto Rico Political Personality of the Year? Vote above.

If you are unhappy with all of the candidates, vote for "other" and add your own comments to the message board after voting.

This Week's Question:
Who is your choice for Puerto Rico Political Personality of the Year?

US . Residents
. PR
Sila Calderon 32%
17% Jose Serrano 11%
35% Carlos Pesquera 40%
9% Guillermo Gil 5%
11% Other 12%


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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