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Holiday Season Curbs Campaigns

By Kevin Mead

December 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

With the holiday season in full swing it was a fairly uneventful week in Puerto Rico campaign politics that found more movement on the part of Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá than by his New Progressive Party rival Pedro Rosselló. Some local candidates turned their attention away from traditional campaigning, opting instead to dispatch bands of supporters to sing traditional Christmas songs at island media outlets and other strategic venues. Armed with "coquito," a Puerto Rican variation on eggnog spiked with local rum, the "parranderos" may prove to be a persuasive force in the early stages of the campaigns.

On the serious side, Acevedo Vilá announced a formidable campaign advisory committee which will be headed by longtime Carolina Mayor José Aponte and includes José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, the son of former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón. Rounding out the panel, which Acevedo Vilá referred to as a "dream team," are: Senate Majority Leader José Luis Dalmau, House Vice President Ferdinand Pérez, former Education Secretary Celeste Benítez, former Labor Secretary Víctor Rivera Hernández and former Rep. Presby Santiago.

The advisory committee was expected to focus on mapping out campaign strategy while a second panel will be created to carve the planks of Acevedo Vilá's campaign platform.

In a further sign that the resident commissioner is turning his attention away from his post in Washington to focus on his run for governor on the island, Acevedo Vilá tapped Carlos Dalmau to direct his bid for La Fortaleza. Dalmau has served as Acevedo Vilá's chief of staff in D.C. since 2001, a post he will officially give up on Dec. 16.

According to reports in local newspapers, Acevedo could resign the D.C. post as early a next Tuesday and that PDP resident commissioner candidate Sen. Roberto Prats would fill the post until the 2004 election. Speculation has Prats Senate seat being filled either by Calderón's daughter Sila Mari González or Juan Eugenio Hernández Mayoral, both of whom are seeking at-large seats in the upper chamber in 2004. With her daughter in the Senate, the governor would have enough votes to get Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado confirmed as chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Gov. Calderón took another baby step toward joining Acevedo Vilá's campaign. In a typical bit of political sidestepping, Calderón said "the best assistance and help I can give is to continue governing and dedicating all my efforts to the government of Puerto Rico," adding that she would take part in "specific political activities at the appropriate time."

For his part, Rosselló has remained nearly off the radar, preferring to wait for the New Year to launch his campaign in earnest.

In other matters, the State Elections Commission's Advertising Regulations Board met with commonwealth and municipal officials and ad agency and public relations representatives to discuss limits on government advertising in an election year. The new guidelines, which go into effect on Jan. 1, aim to "to avoid publicity efforts aimed at touting programs, projects, gains, accomplishments, projections or plans, slogans, admonishments or phrases related to political campaigns that in some way constrain the will of the voters."

Good luck

In the resident commissioner's race, NPP candidate Luis Fortuño flexed his muscle in D.C. to lure U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., to Puerto Rico to discuss "Faith Based," a program designed to bring federal funding to religious groups for community outreach programs. Fortuño, the Republican National Committeeman in Puerto Rico, has strong ties in Washington and is expected by many observers to have pull if elected to the D.C. post.

Meanwhile, youth groups associated with the two main parties added some spice to the still lukewarm campaign by trotting out effigies of Rosselló and Acevedo Vilá. The apparitions, along with a new batch of ubiquitous public posters characterizing Rosselló as a coward and Acevedo Vilá as a liar, established the lowest common denominator of a campaign that is sure to get even nastier once in full swing.

The University of Puerto Rico Popular Youth kicked things off with "Pedro Gallina," or "Pedro the Hen," alluding to their claims that Rosselló is scared to square off against Acevedo Vilá in a debate. The two candidates appeared headed to a pre-Christmas debate on education but the plan was scrapped when the campaign teams could not agree on the parameters of what issues would be discussed.

William Morales, vice president of the Popular Youth, said Acevedo Vilá had nothing to do with "Pedro Gallina" because the group is virtually autonomous from the main party. However, Acevedo Vilá's repeated claims that Rosselló is "running scared" point to the fact that the scrapped debates remain a point of attack for the PDP.

"Pedro Gallina" first appeared some weeks ago in front of Rosselló's campaign headquarters in Hato Rey.

Not to be outdone, the Statehood Youth managed to waltz "Anibalocho," a wooden doll with a nose like Pinochio, into PDP headquarters in Puerta de Tierra. According to Statehood Youth leader Félix Plaud, "Anibalocho" aims to highlight what they perceive as Acevedo Vilá's dishonesty.

Plaud cited the public reprimand of the resident commissioner by federal judges in Puerto Rico for filing a campaign complaint against then-rival Carlos Romero Barceló based on false information.

While there was no indication that the two effigies would meet, a face-to-face encounter between the two appeared likely to happen before the real candidates squared off. 

Kevin Mead is assistant city editor of The San Juan Star. He can be reached at

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