Prats Failed To Set-up Rossello Meeting For Dean… Puerto Rico Lobbyists Key In Bush And Kerry Campaigns… Calderon Still Trying To Gain Influence In The Presidential Campaign

June 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Prats Failed To Set-up Rossello Meeting For Dean

The first front-runner for the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nomination, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, arrived in Puerto Rico Friday, June 4th thinking he was going to meet with the top leaders of the territory’s two largest political parties -- the statehood and "commonwealth" parties -- since both leaders are national Democrats.

Meeting with both was important to Dean. He did not want to take sides between local Democrats or be identified with any of the territory’s status options even though he personally favors statehood for Puerto Rico. The reason is that he is trying to become a force again in national politics by helping to elect candidates who share his ‘progressive’ values to public office and wants as many alliances as possible.

Breakfast the next morning was scheduled with his fellow former governor and medical doctor, statehood party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello. The two had become close as leaders of the Democratic Governors Association. Lunch was planned with Rossello’s "commonwealth" party rival, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila. Acevedo had supported Dean for president in return for Dean not reiterating his pro-statehood views.

Other meetings were planned with the leading Democratic Party officers from each of the local parties: territorial Democratic committee Chairman Roberto Prats, a territorial senator and the "commonwealth" party’s candidate for resident commissioner, and Democratic National Committeeman Kenneth McClintock, the local senate’s statehood party leader.

The arrangements for the meetings were entrusted to Prats. He was the Democratic chairman and was further considered trustworthy having supported Dean’s candidacy.

Prats had also invited Dean in the first place, telling the Vermonter his Puerto Rico supporters -- statehooders as well as commonwealthers -- wanted to see him. In accepting the invitation, Dean had it impressed upon Prats that he would not side with either Acevedo or Rossello. He would, however, endorse Prats since Prats is the only Democrat in the resident commissioner race.

Dean was surprised -- and chagrined -- when Rossello did not show up at the breakfast Saturday. When he could get no explanation from trip organizers, he personally called to try to find his former gubernatorial colleague and friend.

From various people close to Rossello, he learned that Rossello had never been invited. Further, Rossello had only become aware that Dean was coming to Puerto Rico from a news report the day before. Prats had not invited Rossello personally or through anyone close to him to meet Dean at any point during the trip.

Dean reacted angrily.

He was no happier when the next meeting on his schedule also fell through. McClintock cancelled his meeting when he found out that Dean would not be meeting with Rossello as he had been led to believe.

The Senate statehood party leader realized that Dean meeting with Acevedo and not Rossello while endorsing Prats would convey the misimpression publicly that Dean now favored the commonwealthers. McClintock meeting with him would not have changed that misimpression, yet it would have given the trip a ‘fig leaf’ of political ‘cover’ that the visit was locally bipartisan.

Prats craftily got what he wanted from the trip but he also showed people in Washington that he was not an ‘honest broker’ between the local parties, a role expected of the chairman of a local Democratic committee.

Puerto Rico Lobbyists Key In Bush And Kerry Campaigns

Two lobbyists from Puerto Rico were featured in the lead article in Influence, a newsletter for Washington’s lobbying industry, Wednesday, June 9th. The article entitled, "On the Front Lines in Battle for Hispanic Vote," was subtitled, "Two lobbyists – one Democrat, the other Republican – court a key constituency in the 2004 race."

The Democratic lobbyist was Manuel Ortiz of Quinn Gillespie, perhaps best known in Puerto Rico as the coordinator in the States of statehooder Rossello’s gubernatorial campaign. The Republican was Jose Fuentes of Reed Smith and first vice president of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. Fuentes also has a well-known Puerto Rican identity: he served as the territory’s secretary of justice during much of Rossello’s previous stint as governor.

The article reported that Fuentes is often asked to speak for President George Bush’s re-election campaign in Hispanic media broadcasts while Ortiz "prefers to work behind the scenes" as an advisor on Hispanic affairs and fundraiser for Bush’s challenger, Senator John Kerry. The Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign’s national Hispanic spokeswoman was quoted explaining Fuentes’ role in the campaign by saying, "He helps us spread the president’s message."

The article also noted that Fuentes is committed to raise $100,000 for Bush and Ortiz has already raised over $100,000 for Kerry, "both using their Puerto Rican ties to raise money." Reporting that "the bulk of Ortiz’s fundraising has come from Puerto Rico," it quotes him as explaining that because Puerto Ricans are "disenfranchised . . . [T]hey tend to be more invested in raising money and seeking lobbyists, etc." It also reports that, "Half of the money that Fuentes has raised has also come from Puerto Rico."

Another point made in the article is that the Hispanic vote is diverse based on different places of origin. It reports, for example, that Fuentes changes the emphasis of his pro-Bush message depending on the location in which he is delivering it.

These locations include California and Miami; they also include broadcasts to Latin American nations. He’s going about his Hispanic outreach "in some untraditional ways" the article reported, ‘"by reaching out to Latin Americans who may pass along this message to their U.S. kin: "Bush is best."’

Ortiz’s activities also extend far beyond Washington and Puerto Rico. "I’ll be in Iowa. I’ll be in Chicago. I’ve been in New Mexico already three times this year. I’ve been in Florida, obviously a lot. I’ll be going to New York, New Jersey, Denver, Virginia, South Carolina" he was quoted as saying.

Highlighting that, "Both parties are making a huge effort in central Florida . . . where Puerto Rican are a fast-growing segment of the population," the article reports Fuentes focuses on "Puerto Rico’s status, whether it should become a state or become independent" when on media broadcasts in the Orlando area. Fuentes also noted that, "I’m going to be spending a lot of time in Florida."

But the article concludes by reporting that there is a common theme among the campaigns’ approaches to all Hispanic groups, even if the specific issues are different. Ortiz explained, "There’s one pitch . . . empowerment."

Calderon Still Trying To Gain Influence In The Presidential Campaign

Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderón was in Cleveland, Ohio Thursday, June 10th to escalate her administration’s unique program to register voters in a State that both presidential campaigns now consider the top battleground of the 2004 election.

The visit reflected Calderon’s as-yet-unrealized goal of becoming a factor to be reckoned with in the presidential election. The territorial governor seized upon the objective as a way of furthering her federal agenda, in particular her now-failed proposal that profits that companies in the States earn from manufacturing in Puerto Rico be up to 100% tax-exempt.

Ohio is now a top focus of the controversial voter registration drive but it had not been before this. To date, the drive there has only registered 5,000 new voters in a State of 11.2 million people.

The State was not a top focus of the drive before because there are only 225,000 people of Hispanic heritage in Ohio and an estimated 66,000 of Puerto Rican origin and it was not recognized that the usually Republican State would become so important in this election. Massive factory job losses have, however, made Ohio a battleground. The closeness of polls there makes even a relatively small number of new voters much more of a target for the presidential campaigns than they would be otherwise.

The drive registers people without regard to heritage or place of origin, although most registrants are Hispanic and most of these are of Puerto Rican background.

It is controversial because the tax dollars of citizens of Puerto Rico are being used to perform a function of government in the States that relates only to citizens of the States. It has become more controversial because it resulted in the largest case of fraudulent registrations in the history of Chicago, a city known for questionable voter registrations. In the case, thousands of non-citizens were registered as citizens from Puerto Rico using phony names and addresses.

Before this, Florida was the registration drive’s priority. The State still remains a top objective, however.

People of Hispanic heritage and people of Puerto Rican origin are a much bigger percentage of the population of a State that was so close in the 2000 election that the winner had to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of Florida’s 17 million people, over three million are of Hispanic heritage and over 600,000 are of Puerto Rican origin.

Further, Florida now has two and a half times as many citizens of Puerto Rican origin as it had in 1990, creating a much bigger pool of new citizens who are not registered to vote in the State. A third of Florida’s population of Puerto Rican origin is registered, including almost 40,000 registered by the drive.

Calderon has also tried to gain influence in this year’s elections in the States -- and, through that, in federal policy-making -- by giving out lucrative drive contracts to politically-influential individuals. Her administration plans to spend at least $12 million on the drive before this year’s elections.

As of April 1st, $4.9 million had been spent, most of it going to political figures. Companies of Luis Garcia of Texas -- who has done much of President Bush’s Spanish language mass media work -- were paid $2.8 million.

Firms of Craig Smith, who managed the presidential campaigns of Senator Joseph Lieberman in this election and former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and was President Clinton’s political director, have been paid $320,000.

A major public relations company, Edelman Worldwide, received $427,000. Michael Deaver, the late President Reagan’s Deputy Chief of Staff, has helped Calderon politically from that company.

$502,000 was paid to the Hispanic Federation, an umbrella group with close ties to Freddy Ferrer, a former New York City Democratic mayoral candidate of Puerto Rican heritage who may again seek the job.

Leading Democratic Florida and Hispanic poll-taker Sergio Bendixen’s company received $202,000.

Despite these efforts, however, Calderon has failed to become a force in the politics of this election. The main reason is that she has played with candidates of both national political parties and is trusted by leaders of neither.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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