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Vigoreaux Has Big Plans For Urban Train Stations

Also Would Develop Green Areas In San Juan; Has No Designs On Governor’s Mansion

WOW News editor

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The 12 Urban Train stations in San Juan would be the backbone of Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux’s master plan for the development of the capital should he win the primary as the Popular Democratic Party’s candidate for mayor of San Juan.

The municipality would help to build citadels at each of the 12 Urban Train stations. The objective of the citadels is to give citizens greater use of the city and increase the interaction between San Juan residents and commuters.

Vigoreaux said the citadels would improve quality of life; increase the municipality’s population, which has been reduced over the past two decades; generate income for the municipality; and reduce the crime rate through increased surveillance.

Vigoreaux presented his master plan during an interview last week at Casiano Communications. He played a DVD showing the Piñero station, at the San Juan Judicial Center in Hato Rey, as the model for the citadels.

A key component of the plan is to turn 50% of San Juan into green areas. The areas, described as small lungs, would be developed throughout San Juan. In places where concrete dominates, some structures would be expropriated and turned into small gardens. Existing green areas would be turned into parks. Sidewalks would be expanded and trees would be planted in them to provide shade.

The space behind the San Juan Judicial Center is one of the candidates for transformation into a small lung. The area had been donated to the government on the condition that the trees not be felled. But the Court Administration Office has paved the area, which is being used as a parking lot.

"We can build a multilevel parking lot near the judicial center…and salvage that beautiful area as a park where visitors and employees can have lunch and relax," Vigoreaux said.

The development of the citadels would be a joint investment between the municipality and a private contractor. According to the model for the Piñero station, the developer would invest $55.1 million and the municipality $2.7 million. Vigoreaux noted, however, that the municipality would serve as guarantor through the Capital Investment Bank.

The former television presenter, singer, and representative was the first to announce his interest in running for mayor of San Juan. The PDP, however, has done all it can to find a contender, approaching House Vice Speaker Ferdinand Perez, Sen. Jose Ortiz Daliot, current party President Anibal Acevedo Vila, and Eduardo Bhatia. The latter is now in the race.

Vigoreaux said he believes his history—that he got the most votes for an at-large seat in the House and came in second for an at-large Senate seat—guarantees him victory over Bhatia.

He declined to attack incumbent New Progressive Party Mayor Jorge Santini. "I have to be honest. Santini has done many good things for San Juan, but there have also been many bad things," Vigoreaux said. "If I am favored in the primary, I won’t dedicate myself to attacking Santini but to highlighting the things that make me…the best mayor for the city."

Vigoreaux, who has been the subject of gibes because of the numerous cosmetic surgeries he has undergone, is nonchalant when talking about his political aspirations. He said he has no interest in using the capital as a trampoline to the governor’s mansion.

"Sadly, that has been the biggest problem for San Juan: every mayor over the past 20 years has used the capital as a stepping-stone to the governor’s office," said Vigoreaux. "That isn’t my intention. I want to stay three terms, and then I will retire and leave my son in charge," he said laughing, noting that former New Progressive Party Bayamon Mayor Ramon Luis Rivera Sr. left the post and his son is now mayor. The same will take place in Carolina, Vigoreaux said.

Name: Roberto Vigoreaux Lorenzana

Birth date: Jan. 12, 1956 in Santurce

Education: University-level coursework at University of Puerto Rico and Loyola University, Louisiana

Professional experience: Made his acting debut in 1969 for a Walt Disney production; pursued career in radio and television, serving as presenter, producer, and announcer; has received numerous awards during his artistic career; representative-at-large (1996-2000); elected senator-at-large in 2000

Marital status: Married to Mary Ann Cortes; three children: Roberto, Jorge, and Valerie

Bhatia Sees San Juan Government As Facilitator

Would Promote Small Businesses, Revitalize Rio Piedras & Santurce; Has Zero Tolerance For School Dropouts

WOW News editor

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

As a governmental structure, the municipal administration of San Juan doesn’t work. The 8,000-employee structure should be turned upside down so the municipality would be a facilitator and citizens the priority.

That is the opinion of attorney Eduardo Bhatia, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) primary candidate for the San Juan mayoralty. "The municipal government has to be a facilitator and not an obstacle," he said.

The former senator sat down with Casiano Communications staff last week to discuss his ideas for San Juan should he win the upcoming primary against Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux.

While careful about assuring that he wouldn’t leave municipal employees without a job, Bhatia said there is no need, for example, for the municipal tower to be in the middle of the banking district. He thinks it should be in Rio Piedras.

He acknowledged San Juan will never be the capital of manufacturing but rather is the center of retail. Nevertheless, Bhatia said he believes in small businesses and private investors and would do all he can to help them.

The municipality’s assistance includes guaranteeing investments and providing parking facilities for small businesses on busy avenues. "We expropriate a home and turn it into a parking lot," Bhatia said.

Bhatia said citizens should have a way to voice their concerns when things aren’t working as they should be. "There should be a citizens accountability program and the communities should have the final say," he said.

He added that if elected mayor, he would promote the development of the urban centers, including those in Rio Piedras and Santurce. "The University of Puerto Rico is always looking to expand; there are dozens of empty buildings in the area. We could move the facilities there, have the students go through the marketplace to buy produce, and turn…Rio Piedras into a university town," Bhatia said.

He also said there is no need for the municipality to manage a hospital, as it currently does. Although he wouldn’t privatize the hospital, he would seek a partner, perhaps Pavia, to run it.

Bhatia added that the municipality doesn’t have the economic resources to continue operating the hospital. "I believe San Juan is broke, but they just don’t want to admit it," he said.

Bhatia, a former PDP senator, was the big surprise of the 2000 general elections. He lost the San Juan mayoralty by only 3,000 votes, a narrower margin than predicted.

Some say then-Mayor Sila Calderon’s refusal to campaign alongside Bhatia cost him the election. Nevertheless, Bhatia continued as head of the PDP in San Juan—that is, until Gov. Calderon gathered San Juan precinct leaders and urged Bhatia to quit to give way to a reorganization. In a matter of hours, precinct leaders who had once supported Bhatia turned their backs on him, and Sen. Eudaldo Baez Galib was appointed to head the party.

Earlier this year, Bhatia announced his intention to run for the Senate. He changed his mind after Calderon announced her decision not to seek re-election, Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral quit his aspirations to the governorship, and Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila became the party’s gubernatorial candidate.

Acevedo Vila approached Bhatia to run against the other PDP candidate for San Juan mayor: Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux.

Asked whether residents of San Juan should be convinced that his loyalties lie with the municipality, Bhatia said all his proposals are aimed at improving the quality of life in San Juan.

Bhatia identified preventing and fighting crime as his top priority. He said a study he commissioned indicates that much of the crime in San Juan is committed by school dropouts. Therefore, he would establish a zero-tolerance policy toward dropouts in the municipality.

"In fact, my first municipal ordinance will be zero tolerance for dropouts," Bhatia said. "The municipality has to make sure that students remain in school. If I can guarantee that 1% of the current dropouts remain in school, that is 1% less in crime,"

Although he considers himself a nontraditional politician, Bhatia said Jorge Santini is the worst mayor the city has ever had and proposed a 10-part program to evaluate him.

Name: Eduardo Bhatia Gautier

Birth date: May 16, 1964 in San Salvador, El Salvador, where his father was doing military service

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science & government from Princeton University, Juris Doctor from Stanford University

Professional experience: Law Clerk for Boston Circuit Court of Appeals Appellate Judge Levin Campbell; interim director for the Resident Commissioner’s Office in Washington; attorney in the private practice; senator-at-large (1996-2000); unsuccessful candidate for San Juan mayor in the 2000 general elections; political analyst for daily radio program

Martial status: Recently married to Panamanian attorney Isabel Cristina Fernandez, no children

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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