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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Post Primary Politics: Letting The Mud Fly
By Kevin Mead
November 28, 2003
The mudslinging between New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rosselló and his Popular Democratic Party rival Aníbal Acevedo Vilá got under way shortly after the Nov. 9 primaries as the PDP called on the State Elections Commission to investigate alleged voting-day ballot infractions by NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz.
Rosselló was quick to voice his confidence in Schatz, prompting charges from Acevedo Vilá that the former governor remains lax in launching investigations into alleged irregularities by party members.
SEC President Aurelio Gracia downplayed the PDP's complaints -- complete with accompanying surveillance videos -- saying Shatz had asked for and received approval to pick up additional party ballots at the agency's headquarters during the voting
Meanwhile, Acevedo Vilá and Rosselló inched toward their first debate last week.
Taking up Rosselló's challenge to a debate on education issues, Acevedo Vilá upped the ante a bit by calling for the former governor to face him in a series of debates on a wide range of issues every month leading up to November 2004 election.
Puerto Rican Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Rubén Berríos criticized his rivals from the two main parties for apparently not inviting him to participate in the proposed debates.
By Thanksgiving, Acevedo Vilá was slated to be visiting Puerto Rican troops in Iraq and debate dates had not been set, according to officials from both parties.
That their initial debate could focus on education was not surprising considering a series of TV spots launched by the PDP candidate in mid November touting that he sees the issue as a key plank in his gubernatorial platform.
That the spots focused more on the $4.3 million kickback scandal at the agency under convicted former Education Secretary Víctor Fajardo prompted Rosselló to point out what he sees as the current administration's dismal record regarding the island's public school system.
The former governor's campaign than launched their own run of TV spots blaming the PDP for the education woes. In the commercials, a picture of Acevedo Vilá's face is splattered by mud.
One point they seemed to agree on was the need to improve the teaching of English within public schools.
A bill that would declare Spanish as the island's sole official language was passed quietly by the Puerto Rico Senate as the last legislative session but was effectively killed, due at least in part due to pressure from Acevedo Vilá, when the House refused to consider the measure.
During Rosselló's previous administration, Spanish and English were established as the island's official languages after a Hernández Colón era Spanish-only law was scrapped.
The resident commissioner's trip to Iraq came on the heels of a series of comments that suggested he was increasingly willing to question President Bush's commitment of U.S. troops in the area.
He repeatedly said his trip to the Mideast had nothing to do with politics and his only aim to show his support for Puerto Rican soldiers taking part in the conflict.
His absence from Washington during as the Medicare reform came to a vote in the Senate pointed to Acevedo Vilá's shift of focus into gubernatorial candidate rather than resident commissioner.
The apparent rift between Gov. Calderón and Acevedo Vilá, which opened during the aborted nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as Puerto Rico Supreme Court chief justice, showed little sign of closing.
Both emerged with strong words for each other after their first and only meeting since the Mercado flap, but with Acevedo Vilá establishing his hold on the PDP.
Gov. Calderón seemed content to sit on the sidelines during the initial stages of the campaign, but said she would join the fray at strategic moments.
Rosselló's bid to return to La Fortaleza, meanwhile, got on more solid footing when Carlos Pesquera, his rival for the gubernatorial nod in the NPP primary, said he wanted to play a role in ensuring the party's success in 2004 and advancing the statehood movement.
Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló, meanwhile, also broke his nearly week-long silence following his primary loss to Luis Fortuño in the resident commissioner primary, saying he too would support the campaign. After reiterating that he would never again stand for elective office, the statehood stalwart said he would likely not take part in the day-to-day politicking but would be available to push the idea of statehood forward.
NPP Rep. José Aponte, who is running for an at-large seat in the lower chamber, was tapped to coordinate the Rosselló election efforts within the House.
Allegations of corruption and other irregularities remained a central campaign tactic, with both parties pointing fingers about previous scandals and improper political donations.
In comparison, all was relatively quiet on the resident commissioner front with PDP hopeful Roberto Prats calling for increased federal and local cooperation to stem the flow of illegal drugs into Puerto Rico and then on to the U.S. mainland.
NPP resident commissioner candidate Luis Fortuño, meanwhile, was busy with the selection of new island GOP leadership in the wake of former Gov. Luis A. Ferré's death in late September.
At their convention earlier this month in San Juan, the island Republicans tapped Ferré's widow Tiody de Jesús to fill the presidency post long held by her late husband. She essentially ran uncontested for the job as former Rosselló campaign manager René Vázquez Botet, a late entry to the race, withdrew from consideration during the gathering.
Fortuño, who had championed De Jesús for the post, retained his post as Republican national committeeman.
Prats and PIP resident commissioner candidate Edwin Irizarry Mora stated their willingness to debate while Fortuño said the idea should be shelved until the candidates had fully drawn up their campaign platforms.
Kevin Mead is assistant city editor of The San Juan Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org