|May 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Is Sila Calderóns Exit From Politics Good For Puerto Rico?
When Sila Calderón announced that she would not be seeking the Governorship of Puerto Rico for a second term, she turned the world of island politics upside down. She also threw into chaos the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) that she had dominated for the past three years. In a tearful television announcement to the island, the 60 year-old Governor said that she wished to "look forward to a much more balanced life in (her) remaining years." Later she said that her abdication would be good for her personally and good for her party, as she turned the PDP over to "a new generation of leaders."
With a sweeping gesture, she plucked from political exile the son of former three-term governor Rafael Hernández Colón, lawyer José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, whom she had rejected as her running mate for the Resident Commissioners job in the 2000 election. Then, with a wink and a nod, she placed current Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila into the 2004 race for Mayor of San Juan and, with a tap of her scepter; she summoned Senate Vice-President Roberto Prats to run for the chance to put his pictures on Acevedo Vilas wall in Washington. The incumbent resident commissioner, who had not been informed of the royal proclamation beforehand, has not decided if he will obey the decree of his partys "Queen."
Days later some 300 members of the PDP leadership convened to rubber stamp Ms. Calderóns selections. The gathering appeared less like a democratic process and more like the machinations of the "party state" politics of Mexico under the PRI or "elections" in the former Soviet Union. Those PDP players who did not receive Calderóns royal glance grumbled, but they bit their lips for the sake of party unity.
Still, there is worry within the PDP that Hernández Mayoral does not have the voter appeal to beat Pedro Rosselló, the presumptive New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate for Governor in 2004. Hernández has never held political office and has occupied no cabinet level posts. Earlier in the year he was mentioned as a possible candidate to run against incumbent NPP San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini in 2004. A victory there, reasoned PDP leaders, would give him on-the job executive experience and a shot at the Governorship after Ms. Calderón had grown weary of the job. It is reported that Governor Calderón will soon find a high level post for her heir apparent to fill in the remaining months of her administration.
Voices from both the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) and the NPP expressed muted glee at the news and began to spin their own speculative messages as to why she made such a precipitous move. The question vexing Puerto Ricans is why a sitting Governor, two and a half years into her term, would truncate her administration and put her party in such a perilous predicament. True, her numbers were not favorable. An El Nuevo Dia poll published the week before her announcement showed her loosing a next election to both Rosselló and Carlos Pesquera, his rival for the NPP nomination. Also, her administration was foundering. Her legislative initiatives in Washington were backfiring and she has had trouble launching her domestic agenda due both to frequent changes within her senior staff and opposition in the Puerto Rico Legislature, even though it is heavily dominated by members of her own party.
But 18 months is an eternity in politics, plenty of time for her to have mended fences, make pretty speeches and cut ribbons all over the island. This, added to the fact that Pedro Rosselló could stumble. He is vulnerable on the political corruption issue and several top aides of his second term have been indicted for bribery and influence peddling. The former island Chief Executive will leave his teaching post in Washington on June 1st to return to Puerto Rico permanently to begin a full-time campaign to reclaim his old desk in the Forteleza (actually, the desk is purported to have been that of Puerto Ricos first Governor, Ponce de Leon). So far, scandal has not touched him but that "digging, digging, digging" noise that one hears about San Juan these days is not construction of the Urban Train. PDP minions are frantically sifting through the debris of the Rosselló administration, looking for dirt to pack into negative campaign ads. Some of that grime could stick, leaving a question mark in the minds of enough voters to have turned the election in Sila Calderóns direction.
This week, Herald readers are asked to react to that fateful day when Sila Calderón turned Puerto Rican politics on its head. Is the Governors exit from elective politics a good thing for Puerto Rico?