Calderón And Zorrilla: An Awkward Parting

by John Marino

June 25, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Gov. Calderón publicly fretted this week over the resignation of Labor Secretary Frank Zorrilla -- days after she chastised the man in public for supporting policies that were against her administration.

Talk about being passive aggressive. After what the governor said last week, it was surprising to many that Zorrilla's resignation did not come sooner. Or that the governor would forget appearances and simply fire the man.

Last week, Calderón said that Zorrilla " has been told on repeated occasions that he is making public statements about certain bills that are contrary to the public policy of my administration." While she said in the same breath that that did not mean she had lost confidence in Zorrilla, nobody really believed it.

This week, she said: "I did not want the resignation of the Labor secretary. It was his decision. His resignation was not requested." Zorrilla, in announcing his resignation this week, said it was nothing personal but that the differences of opinion over public policy were too great for him to remain a part of the Calderón Cabinet.

The question for Calderón remains -- why would she want a Labor secretary to stay on who was espousing views that were contrary to her administration's position on several important matters? But it's not one she will likely answer.

When she lashed out at Zorrilla last week, she pledged that she would not sign into law any measure that would harm her administration's primary goal of creating jobs. But at the time, she declined to specify what specific bills being discussed she was talking about.

It was not until this week that the governor grudgingly said that she would not pass two bills Zorrilla had championed: a stricter new anti-monopoly law and a law that would grant full-time worker benefits to part-time workers.

Calderón may be readying to leave La Fortaleza (her one term ends in January and she is not seeking reelection), but she still plays her cards so close to the sleeve that one would think she is trying to stay in power.

One reason for her awkward step dance around the issue of her rebellious Labor secretary can be found in the reaction to Zorrilla's resignation.

Union leaders, opposition politicians and even some members of her own party (who are seeking reelection) denounced the governor's comments and her disagreement with Zorrilla over populist measures sure to be a hit with many voters. They said it showed that the Calderón administration was beholden to the interests of big business.

After being stung by the criticism, the governor and her top advisors held a forum on the economy, highlighting positive trends among economic indicators. It gave Calderón the opportunity to respond to the criticism, saying "for me, the big interests are working for the middle class, special communities, social justice and children."

That certainly sounds like a politician on the stump. But for Calderón, it's no race she is running but a battle to protect the image of her legacy as governor. Nothing, perhaps, showed more tellingly that she has let her political skills rust than her announcement last week that she wanted to nominate Retirement System Administrator Marisol Marchand to a judge's post.

The announcement was horrendously bad timing, as Marchand was days away from finally determining whether or not to scale back former Gov. Pedro Rosselló's government pension. The New Progressive Party pounced on the announcement as evidence that Marchand was trying to buy her way into a judgeship by emitting a negative decision against Rosselló.

The criticism was so stinging that Marchand, a well-regarded attorney, did what she had to do to protect her reputation. She declined the offer to be nominated a judge.

But the fault for that unfortunate outcome lies squarely with Calderón, not Marchand's NPP critics. Whether or not Marchand was being considered for the judiciary was one of the few questions that the governor should have left unanswered.

It's Platform Time for Parties

Both the New Progressive and Popular Democratic parties are slated to approve their governing platforms at conventions this weekend, and the move comes just in the nick of time.

The gubernatorial campaign has gotten so far away from issues that the question of whether or not Rosselló's pension will be scaled back has become one of the burning questions in the race for La Fortaleza.

The approval of the governing platforms comes just before the July 1 official start of the campaign, when parties can begin spending money earmarked for advertising in earnest, which will just add fuel to the ability of campaign spin-meisters to confuse the public with lots of smoke and mirrors.

The individual planks of the party platforms probably won't make front-page headlines or hog prime sound bite time on TV and radio reports. But at least thoughtful voters will have the two platforms to rely on in analyzing who they think is best suited to run Puerto Rico in November.

A careful analysis of the two platforms, as much as anything the candidates will do or say in the coming months, will present a clear choice to voters.

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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