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PUERTO RICO HERALD
New Progressive Party On The Move
By Kevin Mead
December 19, 2003
With just a week left in 2003 the New Progressive Party's governing board met for the first time under party president and gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello. They emerged from the meeting with a new secretary general, lawyer Maria Milagros Charbonier, and a new address as the board approved a resolution to move the party's longtime headquarters in Santurce to Rossello's current campaign headquarters in Hato Rey.
The party cited the outdated facilities and deteriorated condition of the landmark "NPP blue" building in Santurce as the chief reasons for the move and said it would save them money down the road..
But the impending move represents more than just a two-mile march east to Hato Rey. It marks a break with the party's past which in recent years has been marred by corruption scandals, murky finances and internecine fighting. The new Hato Rey home could stand as a New Year's resolution in real estate, a new base for the party to launch the 2004 campaigns in earnest after the holidays.
The NPP does seem to be gathering steam as the year winds down with the party's ranks closing behind Rossello. For the most part, the former governor has not risen to the Popular Democratic Party's baiting on corruption and other alleged irregularities during his previous administrations.
After the governing board meeting, Rossello said the party platform should be in place by the summer. TO carve out the planks of the platform, the party has slated public hearings in the eight Senate districts for the first quarter of 2004, three partial assemblies in May and a ratification assembly in mid June.
Charbonier's appointment as the NPP's secretary general brought new blood into the party's top ranks with local journalist Javier Maymi tapped as press director and former Public Housing Administrator John Blakeman named chief of field operations. Charbonier is vice president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association and an activist in the evangelical church. She was picked from a list of fresh talent that Rossello had asked party officials to draw up and was further evidence of the NPP's looking ahead toward the 2004 election.
Touting Charbonier's volunteer work and legal background, Rossello's campaign manger Juan Melecio said the appointment of a woman to a top party post could reap political awards as well on election day.
More than 50 percent of Puerto Ricans are women he said.
As 2003 draws to a close the party looks to be in better condition than it has been in a long time as Rossello continues to distance himself from the problems plaguing his previous administrations and consolidating his position at the NPP helm. He got a further boost when the Bush administration reactivated a White House status commission which at least opens the possibility of movement on the status front.
Meanwhile, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila announced he would shelve his gubernatorial campaign until after the Christmas season and said he was satisfied with his progress so far.
Acevedo Vila continued to hammer away at Rossello over their aborted debate saying he was willing to face off " when he says and where says."
Rossello countered that a debate would probably be unproductive until the parties have fully mapped out their political platforms. So a debate between the two main candidates appears unlikely until June at the earliest.
PDP resident commissioner candidate Sen. Roberto Prats also said he would halt his campaign efforts until after the holidays, but said he would continue to outline his platform with announcements on education and public security. He also called on NPP resident commissioner candidate Luis Fortuno to debate.
In other matters, State Elections Commissioner Aurelio Gracia testified in favor of new campaign finance reform measures but said the agency would need more money tp oversee it .Under the legislation candidates will be cleared to use up to 4.6 percent of their total campaign funds between January and June. Candidates would also be allowed to take a maximum $500,000 line of credit from the SEC to cover campaign costs over the same six month period.
Meanwhile, Gov. Calderon ruffled some political feathers with her nominations of Associate Justice Miriam Naveira as chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court and Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as associate justice.
In a special session the Senate voted 23-5 to confirm Naveira as chief justice less than 24 hours after she was nominated. The 69-year-old Naveira, the first female to sit on the island's top court, made history again with her confirmation as the first woman chief justice.
But opposition party leaders like Senate Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock and Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Fernando Martin cried foul, saying that the appointment was a transparent by Calderon to get Mercado within striking distance of the chief justice seat, a charge the governor rejected.
By law, Naveira will be forced to retire when she turns 70 in June leaving the post open for the possible renomination of Mercado this summer.
Mercado was Calderon's original choice for the top court helm when Chief Justice Jose Andreu Garcia stepped down in September. After a bruising confirmation battle, which saw several PDP senators and Acevedo Vila breaking ranks with Calderon, she pulled Mercado's nomination in frustration.
Speculation in the fall had Mercado's name coming up again and it has.
At press time, it looked likely that Mercado would be approved for the associate justice slot but was facing a much more difficult fight than Naveira did in her record-setting confirmation.
Kevin Mead is assistant city editor of The San Juan Star. He can be reached at email@example.com