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The Philadelphia Daily News

Running In Puerto Rico, Rallying Here


July 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Philadelphia Daily News. All rights reserved. 

When Joanne Esquilin calls her family back in Puerto Rico, she'll tell them that Pedro Rossello vows to end corruption, create jobs and improve health care on the island.

Her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will listen eagerly about Rossello, a two-term governor with the pro-state New Progressive Party who's running for a third term.

"I really have a big influence," the 27-year-old North Philadelphia mother said. "All I have to do is call [and say], 'I think this is the guy who's going to help us out. This is the guy who's going to help you out.' "

And Pedro Rossello, who served as governor from 1993 to 2001, knows Esquilin isn't the only Puerto Rican in constant communication with her brethren back home.

Philadelphia is one of a half-dozen stops he's making to get his platform out to thousands of mainland Puerto Ricans like Esquilin. The former guv has visited or will visit Miami, Boston, Hartford, Conn., Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York as part of his gubernatorial campaign strategy for the scheduled 2004 race. He talked about the status of Puerto Rico, health care and corruption, among many topics.

"There's very strong communications between the communities of Puerto Rico and here," he said yesterday afternoon after he pounded the pavement. "To a certain extent, there's an influence that maybe from here can be exerted in Puerto Rico."

Also, perhaps even more importantly, mainlanders can start using their increasing political muscle to pressure politicians on Puerto Rico issues.

Then, there's also the mobilizing factor, said Felix Matos Rodriguez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City.

"The element of mobilizing Puerto Rican voters is the way to influence non-Latino politicians on issues that are important to Puerto Rico," Matos Rodriguez said.

Rossello admitted as much.

"We are looking at establishing a relationship so that we can say, 'These are the issues that are important to us on the island,' " he said. " 'You are our brothers and sisters. You have the power to influence your congresspersons and your senators and we'd like you to act on our behalf.' "

Rossello can't count his chickens 'til they hatch, however. First he has to secure the party's nomination, although conventional wisdom says Rossello will win the fall primary.

This despite the politician-slash-pediatric surgeon's last years in office, which were plagued by corruption scandals that resulted in a cabinet member going to jail.

But Rossello, in the morning meeting with some 100 youngsters, community leaders and parents, did not avoid the corruption question. He said if elected, he would take steps to combat corruption that included setting up a system that would investigate Cabinet members before they begin their terms.

With regard to Puerto Rico, he said all three of the island's parties are in agreement that something must change. The commonwealth status established for the island in 1952 is not right for Puerto Rico right now.

Rosa Saez, regional manager for community development with Wachovia, liked what she heard.

"He did a call to action. You have to own this," said Saez, who works in West Trenton. "He has left some powerful messages for us here in Philadelphia."

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