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Editorial & Column
By FRANCISCO JAVIER CIMADEVILLA
October 23, 2003
The mayors featured in our front-page story today have many things in common.
First and foremost, they are all very successful. The six, three from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and three from the New Progressive Party (NPP), throughout their years in office have improved municipal services to the citizenry, developed municipal infrastructure and public works, attracted to their towns economic development projects that have translated into job opportunities for their constituents, and successfully managed municipal finances.
Second, perhaps precisely because theyve been successful mayors, theyve also been successful politicians. Winning re-election time and time again, Guaynabos Hector ONeill, Caguas William Miranda Marin, Ponces Rafael "Churumba" Cordero, Fajardos Anibal Melendez, and Carolinas Jose Aponte have managed to earn the endorsement of considerable numbers of voters from political parties other than their own.
Although Bayamons Ramon Luis Rivera Jr. is only in his first term, every indication is that he will follow in his fathers footsteps and become an extremely popular mayor, even among voters from other parties. In a place like Puerto Rico, where people are so strictly divided along party lines, the fact that these mayors consistently win the support of constituents from opposing parties is remarkable.
More than proving their abilities as good politicians, it demonstrates that regardless of political affiliation, when it comes to their elected officials, constituents do reward hard work and dedication. These mayors have set the standard for how to win re-election.
Third, all six mayors share a surprisingly common vision about the role of municipal governments, particularly when compared to the central state government. When it comes to providing services to the community, mayors are right there on the front lines. Even in a large town, the mayor cant easily hide inside a government building.
Not surprisingly, all of our featured mayorslike some of their colleagueshave at times severely criticized the central government administration, whether NPP- or PDP-dominated, as a bloated bureaucracy that consistently fails to deliver services people have every right to expect from their government. As a result, these mayors have often had to take matters into their own hands, even risking the political cost of garnering enemies at La Fortaleza.
The cases of Willie Miranda Marin and Churumba Corderos criticism of the Calderon administrationof their own partyare only the most recent examples of this. In the past, it may have been the mayors of Guaynabo or Bayamon criticizing an NPP administration.
Headlines in the daily newspapers have tended to focus on the political battles that such episodes foster instead of emphasizing the underlying issue: These successful mayors, regardless of political affiliation, are telling all of us that the time has come to revamp the way government does business and delivers services to the people.
Because they are less bureaucratic and more agile, municipal governments are often much more efficient at delivering services to the people than the central government.
Granted, except for Fajardos, all our featured mayors head large municipalities that command considerable economic resources and, consequently, are in a better position to deliver the goods to their constituents than the mayors of smaller, less affluent townships.
But there are ways around the challenges faced by smaller municipalities. Some of the mayors have suggested the possibility of grouping small and large municipalities for certain functions, a step beyond the municipal consortium concept that some have already implemented. Others have suggested we adopt a system of counties, with separate townships within, with the county government taking over police, public education, and other functions.
The bottom line is that we have to figure out a way to transfer to the local level more of the functions that our big central government is increasingly unable to deliver efficiently. The Autonomous Municipality Law was a step in the right direction. Its time to take the next step. And the protagonists of our front-page story today are probably the best ones to tell us how we should do it.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.