When former Governor Pedro Rosselló came back to Puerto Rico to a heros welcome in March of 2003, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) knew that it had a problem. Looking past the New Progressive Party (NPP) primary that they assumed Rosselló would win handily over contender Carlos Pesquera, PDP party strategists decided that the best way to beat the popular former governor was to dirty him.
The mud slinging began even before Rosselló formally announced his intention to again seek the governorship. PDP governor Sila Calderon devoted part of her February, 2003, "state of the Commonwealth" address to the possibility of Rossellós return, saying that she was confident that the Puerto Rico electorate would be "wise enough to reject the most corrupt government the island has had." At the time everyone thought that Calderon herself would be Rossellós opponent in 2004.
Before Rosselló could unpack his bags, the PDP launched an ad campaign with the tag line, "forgetting is prohibited here." The effort was to tie the former governor with NPP officials already convicted for bribery and influence peddling. Rossellós protestations, that he was unaware of the illegal activity that surrounded him, were ridiculed by PDP spokespersons.
Calderons dramatic announcement in May of 2003, that she was not going to run for re-election, sent the PDP into frenzy to select someone to replace her in 2004. At the time, polls had her losing to Rosselló, had the election been held at the time. Rejecting her year-2000 running mate, Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, as her successor, she bestowed her favor on José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral, son of a former PDP governor. When he withdrew from the race, she smiled on Sen. Roberto Prats, but the PDP leadership rebuffed her and selected Aníbal Acevedo Vilá to oppose Rosselló in the run for the governorship.
The PDP musical chairs did not deter the anti-Rosselló slant to that Partys message. From the very beginning, this was to have been a Pedro Rosselló smear campaign. The PDP released a TV ad showing Rosselló in the company of indicted members of his former cabinet. In a variety of ways, the implication was, and continues to be, that the former 2-term governor was complicit in the corruption of some of his lieutenants.
Recent indictments filed against two NPP Rosselló aides have provided PDP spokespeople with new opportunities to splatter their opponent. The latest maneuver was to release the image of Pedro Rosselló as the ace of spades, reminiscent of the Iraq coalitions display of playing cards, depicting fifty-two Baath Party criminals, with Saddam Hussein as the ace of spades, the nations chief culprit.
PDP surrogates have questioned Rossellós eligibility to run for governor due to his absence from the island for several years, the legitimacy of his $52,000.00 annual government pension because of several months of alleged absence many years ago and the honesty of his local tax return when he was teaching in Washington.
The idea has been to keep the former governor on the defensive, stymie his campaign themes and sow suspicion of his credibility among Puerto Rican voters.
In spite of all this, a mid-May poll conducted by El Nuevo Dia showed Rosselló with a 7-point lead over Acevedo Vilá with the election five months away. There is now a question as to whether or not the PDP mudslinging is counterproductive.
The NPP has run a somewhat more positive campaign, crafting a message of fighting crime, improving healthcare and education and igniting a stalled local economy, but has lost no opportunity to slam the ineffectiveness of the Calderon administration and to discredit Acevedo Vilás record as an absentee Congressman. It, too, has buckets of mud ready to fling at the crisp white shirts of PDP opponents.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) is looking on the mud slinging with glee, hoping for gains from an electorate weary of the negative tone of campaign to date.
This week, Herald readers may decide if the PDPs mud slinging will stick on Pedro Rosselló and fatally flaw his candidacy.