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A Father's Pride, A Party's Nightmare

by Lance Oliver

August 13, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Most parents feel a special pride when their children follow in their footsteps, maybe even a feeling of validation, that the choices and roads taken over a lifetime were ones worthy of emulation.

But quite naturally most parents also have a hard time viewing their children's endeavors with objectivity and fairness. That can cause problems under any circumstances, but Puerto Rico is learning that when the father is former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón and the son wants to be resident commissioner, the repercussions go far beyond one family. They may affect all of Puerto Rico.

The fight currently rending the Popular Democratic Party pits new party president and gubernatorial candidate Sila María Calderón against Hernández Colón and his son, José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral. The younger Hernández wants to run for resident commissioner next year, but Calderón wants her running mate to be Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who took over as party president after the PDP's disastrous electoral loss in 1996.

The will of a popular party president would normally be enough to squelch an upstart candidacy such as that of Hernández Mayoral. But a significant portion of the party looks back with nostalgic yearning on the years Hernández Colón was governor, and the former party leader still commands loyalty and pulls strings behind the scenes.

To complete the web of ties, Calderón's political prominence began when she served in Hernández Colón's cabinet, eventually becoming his chief of staff and Secretary of State. Now the former boss and his trusted aide are at odds, and an effort to mediate the dispute failed when Hernández Mayoral backed out of a planned meeting.

The main criticism against Hernández Mayoral is that he is trying to make his political debut by running for the second-highest spot on the ballot, a privilege he hasn't earned with anything but his famous name.

Compare his case to that of another second-generation fledgling politician, Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló's daughter Melinda Romero. She wore out shoe leather stumping for the party, was president of its youth organization and successfully made her first run for office in the last election, winning a seat in the Legislature, an appropriately entry-level job for a first-time candidate.

Hernández Mayoral, who wants to start at the top, has not earned IOUs in his party and has never held or even run for political office before. His father's name and pull are probably not enough for him to defeat Acevedo Vilá in a primary or Romero Barceló in a general election, but the dilemma for the PDP is that it might be enough to damage the other candidates. If the party leadership crushes Hernández Mayoral's candidacy, it runs the risk that many of his father's loyalists might sit on their hands on election day next year. That would make it difficult not only for
Acevedo Vilá, but also for Calderón.

So who will find a way out of this standoff? On the one hand, Calderón, as a new party president, wants to show she has control of her party. Backing down to her former boss will not make her appear more formidable.

On the other side, there's no question that Hernández's blood is thicker than the red dye on the pava flags. In a televised interview recently, Hernández Colón's voice broke and tears came to his eyes when he tried to describe the pride he felt while watching his son work a crowd and respond to the cheers of supporters at a rally.

Hernández Colón repeatedly said during the interview that all he wants for his son is a fair chance at the candidacy, a primary election not skewed in favor of Acevedo Vilá. But that's a father speaking, a father who understandably cannot see the unfairness of his own interventions on his son's behalf.

In a fundamental way, it's unfair for Hernández Mayoral even to be considered a possible candidate for resident commissioner. No one with an unknown name and the same background would be taken seriously for a moment. What Hernández Mayoral has not earned, through work or experience, his father is trying to help him win as it if were an inheritance for a monarch to hand down. It may be too much to expect a father to see clearly through his tears of pride and understand that. But he has many in his party, so desperate for a win after consecutive election drubbings, seriously worried that this battle will be prolonged and in the end many populares will be the ones crying.


Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at:

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