|December 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Who is the Puerto Rico Person of the Year?
It is the time of year to assess the persons, places and events that dominated the news of Puerto Rico in 2003 and to ascertain who, more than any other individual, riveted our attention, both on the island and within the larger Puerto Rican community resident on the U.S. mainland.
This week, the Herald will leave the final decision up to its readers and announce your choice in in our first edition of next year.
To facilitate the process, Herald editors have reviewed its own pages and those of other Puerto Rico publications, determining that five names dominated the news over a significant period of time in 2003. Of these, three are leading politicians whose activities created sustained coverage throughout the year. One is a Puerto Rican icon whose illness and death late in the year presaged a two-week outpouring of tribute and affection in the press, radio and television and the fifth is a major league baseball player from Puerto Rico who led his team to win the 2003 World Series.
We are offering these five names for your consideration. If, however, you consider that another person deserves the distinction, a space is provided for your email write-in choice.
GOVERNOR SILA M. CALDERÓN
Arguably, current Governor, Sila Calderón, due to her position as the islands chief executive, was an over-arching figure in the years events. This would have been true for any governor in any year of incumbency, but this year, due to three calamitous decisions, the current Governor became an even more ubiquitous player in Puerto Rican politics.
In a May television appearance, she announced that, "to seek a more balanced life," she would not be a candidate for reelection in 2004, words that sent shockwaves through the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and prompted questions by Puerto Ricans generally. Shortly thereafter, she announced her impending marriage to Ramón Cantero Frau, a former cabinet member. This news helped justify her claim of personal concerns about a second term in La Forteleza, but it increased the gossip surrounding the couple. Then, two ill-advised appointments brought notoriety and some derision to Puerto Ricos first woman governor.
After announcing her imminent departure from politics, she named, and threw her prestige behind, José Alberto Hernández Mayoral to be her successor candidate for the next gubernatorial term, bypassing Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. When Hernández Mayoral dropped out of consideration weeks later, Acevedo Vilá sought and received the PDP nomination without the Governors support. Later, when Ms. Calderón nominated Ferdinand Mercado, her Secretary of State, to fill the vacancy of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a bitter fight over his confirmation consumed the Puerto Rico Senate for weeks, as members of her own party, spurred on by the still resentful Acevedo Vilá, debated and ultimately rejected the appointment.
She now faces a year of ribbon cuttings and polite but unenthusiastic campaigning for PDP candidates, before fulfilling her desire for "a more balanced life."
GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE PEDRO ROSSELLÓ
After the defeat of the New Progressive Party in the 2000 gubernatorial election, the retiring two-term Governor of that party, Pedro Rosselló, left Puerto Rico to take a teaching position at a medical school in Washington. There, it was assumed, Pedro Rosselló, M.D., would train future doctors, remember the triumphs of his eight years in office, forget the frustrations of his unsuccessful effort to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico and ignore the corruption investigations, indictments and court trials conducted by federal prosecutors against several of his former cabinet officers.
Two years of respite in his ivory tower, however, were sufficient, it seems, because early this year he discharged a political bomb that would topple the leadership structures of the New Progressive Party (NPP) and eventually lead to his nomination as the NPP candidate for Governor in 2004.
Pedro Rosselló came out of retirement from politics and returned to the island to again run for Governor!
On his return in June, Rosselló took charge of the NPP, consolidated the support of most of its elected officials, defeated his former Economic Development Chief, Carlos Pesquera, in a primary election, reasserted his plan to bring statehood to the island, articulated his criticism of the current PDP administration and confronted the charges of bribery and kick-backs proven to have been common in his administration.
His intimates say that he made this unexpected move to rescue a party that he saw foundering under Pesqueras leadership, to stem the mounting effort by opponents to tie him personally to the scandals of his administration and to redirect Puerto Ricos move away from the separatist tendencies of the current administration and towards the object of his unrequited passion -- statehood for Puerto Rico.
He is currently slightly ahead in the polls to beat PDP candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá in November, but has admitted that he expects a tough and close race for the governorship.
RESIDENT COMMISSIONER ANÍBAL ACEVEDO VILÁ
This Resident Commissioner, who spent relatively little time at his Washington Post, preferring the tropical heat of island politics, seems to have chosen the correct venue for his five-day Congressional weekends, since he is now titular head of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate for governor in 2004. Although still the islands Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, Aníbal Acevedo Vilás focus is nearer to home, the five hundred year old fort that houses the desk of Puerto Ricos first Governor, Juan Ponce de Leon, currently occupied by his present nemesis, but one-time political collaborator, the lame-duck Governor Sila Calderón.
When he was passed over as Calderons choice to succeed her, it looked as if Acevedo Vilás political ambitions were in a tailspin. Embarrassed that he had not been informed beforehand of the Governors decision not to run in 2004, and smarting even more from the fact that she had anointed his former rival for the Resident Commissioners post, José Alberto Hernández Mayoral, the former Puerto Rico Senator hinted that he would return to that chamber after his tour of duty in the U.S. House.
Then fate smiled on him.
When Hernández Mayoral withdrew his name from consideration due to the health condition of his son, Acevedo Vilá pounced on the opportunity to retrieve what he had considered rightfully his, a shot to oppose Pedro Rosselló and Independence Party (PIP) candidate Rubén Berríos in the general election and win the chance to succeed Calderón. He has begun that effort in earnest by joining a Congressional Thanksgiving Day junket to Iraq and exposing many rolls of film with Puerto Rican troops in the field, making them available to journalist over his website.
There is presently controversy as to whether or not he will resign his job as Resident Commissioner to devote full time to the gubernatorial race, a decision he has yet to make. Smart money is on him applying to that decision the motto of his Party, and that he will choose to enjoy "the best of both worlds."
FORMER GOVERNOR, LUIS ANTONIO FERRÉ AGUAYO
On October 21, 2003, just five months short of his 100th birthday, a man who had been Puerto Ricos Governor, the founder of the New Progressive Party, a leading industrialist, a generous philanthropist and patron of the arts died in San Juan, presaging a state funeral and heartfelt expressions of appreciation from Puerto Ricans from every region and economic condition. Luis Ferré, "Don Luis" as he was popularly known, was considered Puerto Ricos contemporary Renaissance man, and his long life was dedicated to the political, economic and social progress of Puerto Rico.
Luis Ferré is rightly regarded as a man who helped to shape the Puerto Rican agenda in the 20th century. In 1968 he was elected Governor under the party he formed the year before, ending the nearly two-decade rule of the Popular Democratic Party. Under his leadership, then and afterwards, his "statehood party" as it was called, pulled popular opinion away from the "Populares," so that it is now on an even level in the competitive world of Puerto Rican politics. Since the Ferré Administration, an even number of Governors from the two major parties have held power in La Forteleza.
Don Luis Ferré left his imprint on Puerto Rico. He was tireless in the pursuit of his vision of full sovereignty for Puerto Rico, by means of full integration into the United States of America. Although he did not live to see his dream of Puerto Rico as the 51st state realized, his passing will no doubt stir others to move his dream to reality. Those who paid him a final farewell spoke of his accessibility and concern for their welfare. Those who were his intimates spoke of his love of family, his loyalty to friends and his effectiveness as a leader.
All agreed with the way in which Don Luis described himself in life: "I am," he said, "revolutionary in my ideas, liberal in my objectives, and conservative in my methods."
FLORIDA MARLINS CATCHER, IVÁN "PUDGE" RODRÍGUEZ
In most major league baseball seasons, it would be difficult to pick a Puerto Rican Baseball Player of the Year." In a major league replete with so many talented Puerto Ricans, any selection would be controversial. This year, however, the choice is clear. The honor belongs to the player whose team won the World Series, and whose performance in the play-off series was so dominate that he was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the National League championship series.
Will Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez please step forward?
This popular Puerto Rican catcher was, more than any other player on the Florida Marlins, responsible for the teams dramatic rise from a looser in mid-season to a wild card play-off contender at the end of the schedule. Victories in the best of five series against the league rivals San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs made them the National League pennant winner and the leagues contender in the World Series against the American League champ, New York Yankees.
In the best of seven games against the Yankees, the upstart Marlins won it in six, winning the concluding contest by shutting out New Yorkers in their storied Bronx backyard, by a 2-0 score. In the post-season run to the world championship, "Pudge" Rodríguez batted .313 with three homers and 17 RBIs.
Puerto Ricans following this barrel-chested, 32 year old superstars career, remember the Vega Baja native starting as a rookie with the Texas Rangers in 1991. In his twelve years with the Rangers, he had a combined batting average of .303, hitting 231 home runs and moving 914 Texans across the plate with his hitting. In 1999, his best year, he hit 35 homers, had 113 RBIs and a .332 batting average. As adept behind the plate with his glove as over it with his bat, "Pudge" Rodríguez was a ten-time all-star and "golden glove" winner for outstanding defensive play. He is also considered a master at managing pitchers, bolstering or chiding them as necessary.
He signed with the Marlins for the 2003 season for a 10-million dollar salary on a 1-year contract, a paycheck more than 50 times higher than his rookie take home pay of $190,000. As of this writing, he is again a free agent with a new business agent testing his increased value in the baseball marketplace.
It is likely that Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez will continue to bring joy to his fans and pride to Puerto Ricans for many years to come.
Name you choice for Puerto Rican of 2003! Please vote above.