|Theres often a thin line between politics and show business, and the line appears to be getting even thinner in Puerto Rico this year.
The Legislature has had a handful of show biz types for a few years now, and one of them, former Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux, may be the only Popular Democratic Party member interested in challenging San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini in the 2004 election.
Meanwhile, over in the New Progressive Party, heart-throb Julian Gil, a model who has opened up a successful restaurant and health spa in the city, has declared himself a die-hard supporter of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló and Santini and says he might run for the Legislature.
Theres an obvious connection with the public needed in both politics and show business. And nothing says a former actor, even a second-rate actor, cannot become a successful political leader, as former President Ronald Reagan made clear. But while the Popular Democratic Party has more performing artists in its ranks, the New Progressive Party has been more adept at using popular culture to its advantage a big plus in trying to win that ever elusive youth vote.
A case in point is Vigoreaux. On paper, a television personality looks like a good match against Santini, whose own success in politics has been based on the "star quality" of his personality, rather than a substantial track record.
But nobody in the PDP yet believes it. They first tried to draft Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, but he snubbed the partys offer of unconditional support for a City Hall run, announcing this week what many had suspected, he would instead seek to return to the House of Representatives from where he was plucked to be Gov. Calderóns running mate. Calderón, also the PDP president, tried to recruit former beauty queen Marisol Malaret, but she declined. The governor has met twice with Vigoreaux, but has failed to publicly endorse him. Santinis opponent in 2000, former Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, announced earlier this month that he would return to the Senate. Though he has given indications that he might change his mind, in recent days San Juan district leaders have dismissed the possibility and have thrown their support behind Vigoreaux, saying he likely will be the only candidate.
Part of the problem is with Vigoreaux himself. As senator, his most memorable action was undergoing plastic surgery on his face, and not only publicly announcing it, but also allowing television and newspaper crews to document it. His legislative career follows a lackluster career as a television host, which also included a disastrous one-record outing as a singer. In fact, the performing artists in the PDP as a whole have not distinguished themselves, with the one exception being the Grande Dame of the PDP -- Senate Vice President Velda Gov. González. She is not only the most substantial lawmaker of the bunch; she was also always the most serious artist of the group.
While the PDP has had more pop culture figures within its ranks, the NPP has more successfully used endorsements from popular singers and sports stars to win votes. NPP candidates, too, have shown an affinity with popular culture in their campaigning. Rosselló danced La Macarena and co-opted a Ricky Martin anthem when he was reelected with a million votes in 1996. While González has set up a government media monitor to hunt for obscenity and violence in rap videos and television shows, Santinis reelection campaign really kicked off when he appeared on the cover of El Vocero in the throes of el perreo, a dance, usually performed in videos by a pretty young lady in a string bikini, in which the hips and buttocks are thrust in a grinding circular motion.
The PDPs real appeal to youth will come from its new youthful ticket of José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral for governor and Sen. Roberto Prats for resident commissioner. But how well the pair will appeal to the youth vote remains to be seen. Rosselló and Santini are already actively courting it.
Rosselló takes a tough stand
Several media outlets reported Wednesday that Rosselló has come out against the anti-sodomy statute in the Puerto Rico Penal Code because it violates the right to privacy inherent in the Puerto Rico Constitution. The subject has become an issue of public debate because the Senate is revising the code, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected soon might make the statute unconstitutional and gay rights groups are calling for its repeal while religious groups are vowing to take to the streets in protest if the Legislature dares to nix it. The statute prohibits any sort of "unnatural" sex. Legal experts say everything except basic, missionary position intercourse is probably prohibited under the law, which they also unanimously believe is entirely unenforceable and largely an anachronism.
But because of the political power of the Catholic Church and the coalitions of Christian Evangelical churches, Rosselló is the only candidate to take such a stand. Neither administration officials nor lawmakers have done so either. That includes Calderón and NPP President Carlos Pesquera. Incredibly, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodríguez refused to discuss her stance on the matter during public testimony on the proposed Penal Code overhaul. She had earlier won kudos from gay rights groups by issuing a directive to prosecutors to apply island domestic violence laws to situations involving same-sex couples. The local Supreme Court wimpishly ruled that the intent of Law 54 was not to be applied for gay and lesbian relationships throwing the ball back to the Legislature to change it if lawmakers intent was otherwise.
Most people think the anti-sodomy law, which no one in recent memory has been convicted of, is silly, and as such, probably deserves elimination. But by inviting the wrath of most churches on the island, Rossellós stance was nonetheless courageous.
Ironically, on the same day that primary opponent Pesquera was claiming that the former governor could not attract votes outside of the pro-statehood party, a very public independence supporter and Calderón appointee congratulated Rosselló on the valor of his stance. It was Womens Affairs Advocate María Dolores Fernos, whose decision to fly the Puerto Rican flag alone in the lobby of the agency she directs prompted the June 2002 flag-raising melee which ended with Pesquera and other NPP officials being charged for rioting.
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