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Orlando Sentinel

Rising Anger Fuels Race For Governor

Ray Quintanilla, Sentinel Columnist

August 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- You might call them "The Three Amigos." They have been called worse -- "three blind mice."

But there isn't anything funny about what's happening as Pedro Rossello, Anibal Acevedo Vila and Ruben Berrios ask voters for the opportunity to govern Puerto Rico in what many call the most important election here since the island became a U.S. commonwealth.

The race is also among the most contentious in years. And, the outcome is sure to be felt in Central Florida, home to a growing Puerto Rican population.

Gov. Sila Calderon isn't running for re-election, but she has thrown her support to Acevedo Vila.

One question remains at the forefront: Can the island emerge from its worst crime wave in three decades?

Last week, El Nuevo Dia newspaper announced the results of its latest public-opinion survey, which indicated Rossello is pulling away from the pack.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said if the election were held last week they would have voted for Rossello, who previously served two terms as governor beginning in 1992.

His most powerful rival, Acevedo Vila, trailed with 34 percent. Berrios, the candidate who has pledged to push for independence for the island, was supported by a meager 7 percent of those polled. The remainder said they were undecided.

Rossello has been dogged by an unusual charge from his opponents: He doesn't live on the island, because he is trying to maintain residency in Virginia and in San Juan. But the residency question apparently hasn't hurt him.

The island's growing crime rate is Rossello's major issue. A strong supporter of statehood, Rossello says implementing a "mano dura" -- or hard hand -- approach to crime is the only way to ease the island's growing homicide numbers.

As of last week, the island marked 509 homicides, 13 more than a year ago.

Rossello also has been hit with allegations of corruption since some former aides were convicted of misconduct during his years in office.

But poor Acevedo Vila, the island's resident commissioner to the U.S. Congress, hasn't been able to find a major issue to ride into the fall election.

In fact, he has spent much of his time defending the politics and policies of the Calderon administration, because he and the current governor are from the same party.

In return, Calderon found $4.5 million per month to put 500 National Guard troops on the streets -- stealing the mano dura approach to fighting crime. There's even word the governor has delayed the official opening of the island's first public-transit rail line until after the election to prevent Rossello, who fought for its construction, from claiming any credit for it.

Rossello isn't talking about much on the stump since the Guard hit the streets last month. He's just shaking a lot of hands.

As for Berrios, an important voice in encouraging the U.S. military to leave the island of Vieques, news is pretty dismal.

Though he would reduce ties with the United States, and put Puerto Rico on the path to independence, the issue hasn't been enough to bolster his campaign beyond single-digit poll numbers.

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