Puerto Rican Backed for Democratic Party Vice Chair… Puerto Rico Paper Glosses Over Calderon Administration Record… Recount Changes Result of Governor’s Race

December 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Puerto Rican Backed For Democratic Party Vice Chair

A former Puerto Rico official continued to pick up major support this week in his bid to become a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair Alvaro Cifuentes was endorsed by Democratic Governors’ Association Chair Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico. Cifuentes is a former Secretary of the Governorship of Puerto Rico. Now a lawyer-political activist in Washington, he remains the closest confidant of former Governor Pedro Rossello, the Puerto Rico U.S. statehood party’s gubernatorial hopeful and leader.

Richardson’s endorsement is important because of his personal standing within the Democratic Party as well as because he represents the Democratic governors, a powerful element of the party. Richardson is also the party’s most prominent leader of Hispanic heritage and is mentioned as a potential nominee for president in the 2008 election. He chaired this year’s Democratic National Convention and is a former Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association and the Border Governors’ Conference. His resume also includes service as U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ambassador to the United Nations, and a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee chairmanship.

Last week, Cifuentes was backed by the second-ranking officer of the nation’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO. An incumbent DNC Vice Chair, Linda Chavez-Thompson is the primary spokesperson for labor within the committee, on which labor union representatives hold a substantial number of seats. Chavez-Thompson, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Vice President, is expected to be re-elected to her party vice chair position.

Other prominent supporters of Cifuentes include: Hartford, Connecticut Mayor Eddie Perez; former U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Henry Cisneros; Bronx, New York Borough President Adolfo Carrion; former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa; and former New York State Assembly Hispanic Task Force and Bronx Democratic Chair Roberto Ramirez. Villaraigosa is a leading candidate for mayor of Los Angeles next year. Ramirez is the main political operative behind the candidacy for mayor of New York City of former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. Perez, Carrion, Ramirez, and Ferrer are of Puerto Rican heritage.

Cifuentes is not the only person of Puerto Rican heritage who favors statehood for Puerto Rico in the race. His predecessor as Chairman of the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus, Nelson Diaz, has also gotten into it. Diaz is a former HUD General and, more recently, Solicitor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

While at HUD, Diaz served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Task Force on Puerto Rico. Although he personally favors statehood for the territory, he has maintained good relations with supporters of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party. His entry into the race after Cifuentes’ is considered curious in light of Cifuentes’ candidacy and their contrasting records as DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair. Cifuentes has accomplished much more in developing the caucus than Diaz did.

There are two other candidates in the contest. Both are prominent party leaders of African heritage. One is U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks (NY) and the other is DNC Deputy Chair Ben Johnson, a former Clinton White House staffer.

The DNC has five elected vice chairs and three appointed deputy chairs. At least three of the vice chair slots, including Chavez-Thompson’s, are considered spoken for. The election of the DNC Chair will have a substantial impact on the race for the other two. If the person elected chair is a man -- as appears likely -- one of the two must go to a woman.

Another potential chairmanship contest roadblock to the election of the vice chair candidates is that Vice Chair Wellington Webb is one of the candidates for chair. Webb, who is of African heritage, is a former mayor of Denver, Colorado. If his chairmanship hopes come to naught, he could seek to retain his vice-chairmanship, and would be well-positioned to do so.

Cifuentes began to rack up considerable support earlier this month at a meeting of the DNC’s Executive Committee, on which he also serves. Twenty-one DNC members signed his nominating petition, giving him more backing than any of the other candidates.

Another of Cifuentes’ noteworthy backers is Puerto Rico’s Democratic National Committeeman, Kenneth McClintock, the incoming President of the Commonwealth’s Senate. Cifuentes has not been supported, however, by the other principal leader of the territory’s Democratic Committee, outgoing local senator Roberto Prats, the defeated candidate of the "commonwealth" party to be Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the U.S. Prats, the territorial committee’s chair, has said that he wants to also consider the other candidates in the race.

Puerto Rico has two other official representatives on the DNC, territorial committee vice chair Luissette Cananas and National Committeewoman Celita Arroyo de Roque. Both are ‘commonwealthers.’

An unofficial representative is "commonwealth" party member Miguel Lausell, who is now a lobbyist in Washington. Lausell backs Cifuentes.

A news release quoted Gov. Richardson as making three major points for Cifuentes’ election. One is that Cifuentes would "strengthen state and local party involvement" in the national party organization. This is an issue within the DNC. State and local party leaders feel that the DNC has been run within an exclusive national party focus in recent years and has ignored essential building of the party at the State and local level.

A related Richardson argument in favor of Cifuentes is that the Puerto Rican has advocated that the DNC take a longer-term approach to presidential campaigning than it has in recent elections. Cifuentes has suggested that presidential campaigns not ignore States which they have little likelihood of winning, to advance the possibility of winning the States in the future.

Richardson also said that Cifuentes "understands the Hispanic community better than anyone in Democratic politics, and his role will be vital to the long-term success of our party." Democrats are alarmed at President George Bush’s success in winning a substantial minority of the Hispanic vote in this year’s election.

The AFL-CIO’s Chavez Thompson stressed Cifuentes’ Hispanic leadership credentials in an e-mail to other party leaders. She wrote of his chairmanship of the Hispanic Caucus, "The work that he did with the Caucus was fantastic and really put us on the map." Cifuentes’ election, she went on, "will help us all when we want the DNC to address the issues we need to target within our Hispanic community."

In an interview, New York Democratic leader Ramirez similarly complimented Cifuentes’ success as Hispanic Caucus Chair. He said that, "Since Cifuentes assumed the chairmanship of the Hispanic Caucus, the influence of the Hispanic and Puerto Rican community has reached the level" that it should have within the party.

Puerto Rico Paper Glosses Over Calderon Administration Record

A Puerto Rico newspaper this past week gave an overview of the record of the administration of Commonwealth Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party) and Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth"/D) in federal affairs.

The article reported the commonwealthers regard as their greatest accomplishment the extension to Puerto Rico of equal funding in elementary and secondary education programs for schools that serve a substantial number of needy children.

The paper did not report that the credit has to be shared with Calderon and Acevedo's predecessors, the statehood party’s Rossello and Carlos Romero-Barcelo. Much of the accomplishment was getting President Clinton to propose the funding in the comprehensive schools legislation that finally became law in 2001, the support of the initially opposed U.S. Education Department and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and the advocacy in Congress of Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Christopher Dodd D-CT), who championed the proposal to final approval. Romero-Barcelo and Rossello were responsible for these accomplishments.

Acevedo, in particular, has tried to suggest that he is more responsible than he is for the funding. He and Government of Puerto Rico lobbyists have gotten members of Congress to make statement which seem to back up his claims.

In fact, Acevedo’s role in the funding was so slight that UPDATE and other news media learned of the congressional decision to provide it before Acevedo did. Acevedo’s charade in trying to obtain credit was so extensive that he even introduced legislation to provide for the funding after it had been privately agreed to by congressional leaders.

The newspaper report also seemed to absolve Calderon and Acevedo for their failure in their pre-eminent federal goal -- obtaining an investment incentive for the territory -- through quotes from U.S. Reps. Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). Serrano correctly noted that Puerto Rico's lack of political power (votes) in the Congress was a handicap to the effort. Gutierrez was right in pointing out that the proposal’s cost was a problem. The article did not point out, however, that federal authorities also regarded the proposal as unacceptable policy.

The proposal would have exempted from federal income taxation profits that manufacturers based in the States obtained from foreign subsidiaries in Puerto Rico. It was an effort to recreate a tax exemption that had been repealed by the federal government. It would have benefited companies that did not need it because they were very profitable and expanding in their Puerto Rico operations with out it. It also would not have been of significant help to the type of labor-intensive companies that have moved away from the territory.

In his comments, Gutierrez, one of the strongest supporters of the ‘commonwealth’ party in Congress, clearly tried to excuse Calderon and Acevedo for the failure. He pointed out that other officials make proposals that do not succeed. Gutierrez failed to note, however, that there was a substantial willingness in Washington to provide economic assistance to Puerto Rico. This willingness was expressed by the chairmen of the Congress’ two tax committees, House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) and then Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), although they were vocal opponents of the Calderon/Acevedo proposal.

The article also surveyed the record of Calderon and Acevedo in the environmental cleaning of the former U.S. Navy range on the island of Vieques, PR. It noted that Calderon was getting the range designated as a federal ‘Superfund’ site. It also quoted a Puerto Rican observer as saying that an agreement between the federal and Commonwealth governments negotiated by Rossello "did not require great amounts of money" for cleaning Vieques. In fact, the agreement provided for at least most of the cleaning that Puerto Ricans still want.

The key difference between the agreement and a law enacted in response to actions by Calderon and Acevedo is that the agreement would have had the federal government dispose of 75% of the range, with Puerto Rico having a priority claim on the land, and the 2001 law requires the land to be a federal Wildlife Refuge in perpetuity. Other federal law requires that land the federal government disposes of for human use be cleaned so that it can safely be used. This would have required major expenditures for cleaning most of the range.

Without Superfund designation the Navy already planned a $125 million clean-up effort for its former land on Vieques, most of which is the former range land lost by Calderon and Acevedo.

Recount Changes Result Of Governor’s Race

A third count of the votes in the November 2nd election has apparently determined a different winner of the race for governor in Washington State than the first two counts.

A manual recount planned to be completed today, December 23rd, is expected to hand the victory to Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a Democrat. Gregoire had a lead of 10 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast with only a disputed 735 ballots from a predominantly Democratic county remaining to be counted.

Gregoire’s Republican rival, former State Senator Dino Rossi, had the most votes in the first two counts: 261 more than Gregoire in the election night count and 42 more in the first recount, which was done by machine.

Republicans are expected to go back to court if Gregoire is certified as the winner of the election. Uncounted ballots are the issue. The race has already been the subject of a number of lawsuits.

Incumbent Gov. Gary Locke (D) may have to remain in office past the scheduled date for inaugurating a new governor January 12th if the litigation keeps the identity of Washington’s next governor in doubt through that date.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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