Calderón Runs A Different Race

by John Marino

April 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. While Pedro Rosselló and Aníbal Acevedo Vilá slug it out in their battle for La Fortaleza, its current occupant appears to be simply biding her time before bowing out of politics, at least temporarily, next year.

Gov. Calderón appears content to spend her remaining months in office working to promote a positive perception of what her administration has done, rather than breaking new ground to add to her legacy.

The gubernatorial candidates are hitting each other hard, going straight for the vein of perceived weakness. For Acevedo Vilá, that means throwing blame on Rosselló for the corruption that flourished while he held the governor’s post, with the federal prosecution of several former New Progressive Party and Rosselló administration officials.

The Rosselló camp, meanwhile, has portrayed Acevedo Vilá as in ineffectual leader who lacks solutions to Puerto Rico’s problems and who is dedicating his campaign to slandering the NPP leader.

The mud is being thrown, and hard. And the more mud that hits, the more harm is being caused to the public perceptions of both candidates. As the ugly campaign escalates, both candidates are appearing equally desperate. Rosselló is struggling to come out of the shadow of the corruption cases that haunt his eight years in office, while Acevedo Vilá fumbles to explain why a $20,000 donation he received in 1999 was not a violation of local tax and election laws.

It’s no wonder that some lawmakers from both parties say privately they are ready to dump their candidate. The dream team being discussed in the Capitol hallways has current NPP resident commissioner candidate Luis Fortuño facing off against the reluctant former governor’s son, Josè Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, for the Popular Democratic Party.

Problem is neither Rosselló nor Acevedo Vilá will drop out of the race without a fight. Replacing the top candidate at this late stage in the campaign season would require a bloody internal coup within a party that just might cost it the election.

Gov. Calderón, meanwhile, has been steadfastly dedicating her time to publicizing the work of her administration, as if consumed by the intent to ensure that she leaves office with a favorable public perception.

In the wake of the Superaqeuduct indictments against Rosselló’s former campaign manager and a former top NPP official earlier this month, Calderón lashed out at Rosselló, whom she never refers to by name but rather as "this man" or "this person," as responsible for allowing the corruption under his watch. In doing so, she has shown that she can be an asset to Acevedo Vilá, even as he struggles to position himself as outside the administration.

But mostly, she has been content to stay above the fray, apparently more interested in trying to maintain a good reputation for her administration than keeping her party in power.

For several weeks now, Calderón has been crisscrossing the island, pointing out infrastructure projects and other programs her administration is undertaking. She is not just appearing at project inaugurations -- apparently there are not enough to keep her occupied until January – but stopping by projects in process to issue progress reports.

Meanwhile, her press office keeps issuing press releases for purchases of new equipment for police and other agencies that have been announced for months now. When the equipment actually arrives on the island (which was the case recently with x-ray machines for the island ports area) that is cause for another press conference.

Her public relations staff quietly touted Calderón’s trip last week to Costa Rica as "historically important," as they were offering to help with travel arrangements for island media outlets. Government officials are hopeful that deals cut during the trade mission will generate some $9 million in sales for local businesses, which is good news but hardly "historic."

The biggest news out of the trip it turns out was the Juan Mora Fernández Order award given to the governor for her "dedication to the ideas of justice, freedom, democracy and peace." Besides receiving the award, which might be one of Costa Rica’s top honors but is obscure everywhere else, Calderón reopened the Puerto Rico trade office in San José that husband Ramón Cantero Frau closed while Economic Development chief at the start of the Calderón administration.

It’s clear the governor is making twice or thrice weekly inspections of public works and programs to tell Puerto Ricans that although she will leave office soon, her administration is still doing a lot. But it’s the kind of work – building water filtration plants and new highways, etc – that the government simply does all the time, regardless of what administration is in power.

Spending so much time, energy and public money on pointing out, repeatedly pointing out, that such work is being done speaks to the lack of imagination and creativity of the administration. And it will hurt rather than help Calderón’s reputation, just as surely as throwing mud will stain the public perception of the two main candidates vying to replace her.

John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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