|March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Rosselló vs. Pesquera: Will It End In A Whimper Or A Shout?
When former Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossellós plane touched down at Luis Muñoz Marin Airport in San Juan last week, the face of island politics took a sea change. The question now being asked is if that change will be calm or tempest tossed, cordial or acrimonious. There is little doubt that the New Progressive Party (NPP) is now energized, freed from the inertia that overcame it as members of Rossellós cabinet were indicted, convicted and jailed, as evidence of bribes and kick-backs came to public light and was exploited by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in a political version of "death of a thousand cuts."
NPP President Carlos Pesquera, a popular cabinet officer in the Rosselló Administration and unsuccessful challenger to Sila Calderon in the 2000 gubernatorial election, has been the face of the party during the dark days of the past two years. As he witnessed the hysteria of party activists as his former boss reentered politics after a two-year hiatus, he must have wondered if his aspiration to challenge his nemesis, Governor Caldron, would ultimately come to pass. So did most of the four million inhabitants of the island and Puerto Rico watchers everywhere.
Rosselló, the presumptive savior of the beleaguered NPP, was back among his admirers, who greeted him with whistles, shouts and the syncopated gyrations to the beat of "La Macarena," his signature campaign song in the heady days of his governorship between 1992 and 2000. The normally 15-minute drive from the airport to Hiram Bithorn Stadium required some three hours for his festive caravan to creep through Saturday traffic and chanting fans that lined the streets of Hato Rey.
Thousands of screaming and whistling people welcomed Rosselló, who packed the stadium, waving U.S. flags and pumping their fists in the air at a rally that began with the theme music from the film "Rocky." One party activist in attendance told the Herald that, "it was unbelievable, even greater than we expected." Observers noted that Rosselló, while animated, did not display his signature bravado and cockiness remembered from previous rallies. "His message was upbeat and positive," said an observer, "he promised to explain the errors of the past and create a vision for the future."
?On the stadium dais with him were Jorge Santini, the Mayor of San Juan, and Carlos Romero Barceló, the Resident Commissioner during the entire eight years of Rossellós term of office. Prominently displayed were members of the NPP leadership, most of whom have either publicly supported Rosselló or leaned in his direction. Carlos Pesquera, the only other contender for the NPP nomination to run against incumbent Governor Sila Calderon, has been loosing ground in his quest for party support.
Undaunted, Pesquera has moved to set up a campaign team for what seems to be an inevitable NPP primary campaign in November 2003 and says he will launch an energetic fight to become the partys nominee. In a meeting between the two contenders, both promised not to attack the other or to split the party, although it remains to be seen if such guarantees will hold as the electioneering begins in earnest. "I come here to rebuild. I don't come here with hate, but with a vision for the future," Rosselló told his admirers on his arrival in San Juan. Already, Pesquera is hinting that he believes that Rosselló is not suitable to carry the NPP banner to war against Governor Calderon, so tarnished was his administration with wrongdoing. Pedro Rosselló is taking an opposite tack, saying that he has "learned from (his) mistakes," and will be vigilant in any future administration he might hold. He demonstrated that in his meeting with Pesquera when he suggested that an outside accounting firm audit the NPP party war chest. Reportedly, Pesquera refused.
Gov. Sila Calderon has refused to comment publicly about Rossellós return to politics but her publicists have been busy producing TV spots showing him in the company of some of his former cabinet members, now convicted felons. Also, there has been a noticeable cooling off of criticism of Pesquera in pro-PDP newspaper and radio organs. Without uttering a word, it is clear whom the Governor would prefer running against in 2004.
Neither of the contending NPP candidates has agreed to withdraw from the race, although, in a joint announcement after the recent meeting between the two, each asserted that neither had asked the other to do so. Reportedly, Pesquera would prefer to hold the primary before the November 2003 date set in Puerto Rican election law. Rosselló likes the timing since he must soon return to his teaching post at George Washington University Medical School in Washington, D.C. and will not be able to begin to solidify his support on the island until he returns after the completion of the academic term in May 2003.
In a previous Herald Hot Button Issue poll, 66% of respondents residing on the island wished for one or the other candidate to step aside for the good of the Party. That does not appear to be happening. As things now stand, there will be an NPP primary between Pedro Rosselló and Carlos Pesquera. This weeks poll asks readers to dust off their crystal balls and predict the winner in that far-off contest.
Who will win the NPP Gubernatorial Primary in November, 2003?