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Primary Elections: Winners, Losers And Others

by Lance Oliver

November 19, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Elections, like baseball games and lawsuits, ultimately come down to a question of who wins. So here are a selection of winners and losers from Puerto Rico's primary election.

Winner: Sila Calderón. The resident commissioner fight between former party president Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral was also a battle for control of the party between party president Calderón and former governor and party president Rafael Hernández Colón, father of the insurgent candidate.

The spin doctors tried to paint it otherwise. "Sila Calderón is not on the ballot," said Acevedo Vilá's press aide as the polls closed. But that was true only in the most literal sense and nobody really believed such comments, even the people saying them.

Calderón put all her resources into the fight. She did not maintain neutrality, as many thought a party president should, but made her preference clear and then spent a lot of time waving and shaking hands alongside Acevedo Vilá at campaign events.

She even flirted with threats a couple of times. Once she mused about refusing to run if Hernández Mayoral were chosen as her running mate. Just days before the election, she said she might lose the general election with Hernández Mayoral on the ticket.

(Preliminary) Winner: The Popular Democratic Party. The PDP had the most to lose in this election round. The Acevedo Vilá vs. Hernández Mayoral fight threatened to produce hard feelings and grudges that could damage the party in next year's general elections.

As soon as the results were clear, however, Hernández Mayoral quickly conceded defeat and went to pay homage to Calderón and the rest of the party leadership. His father was also conciliatory.

If that attitude persists, the PDP may suffer no ill effects from the fight after all.

Loser: Royalists. Hernández Mayoral had done nothing to earn the right to run for resident commissioner except be descended from his father. There always was a touch of the air of royalty in Hernández Colón's administrations as governor. He certainly traveled in the style of a monarch, expecting the long-suffering taxpayers of Puerto Rico to pick up the tab for lavish dinners and the finest hotel rooms around the world, places where the vast majority of Puerto Ricans could never afford to set foot.

But there are limits. He could not pass on his titles to his son.

Winner: The "You gotta pay your dues" faction. See above.

Winner: Political parties. While it is true that political parties' grasp on the voters of Puerto Rico has weakened a bit in the past decade, and while it's also true that a single primary election is neither a reliable indicator nor representative of a trend, political parties did look strong this time around.

The PDP central leadership was able to motivate the rank and file to vote for the officially approved candidate, just as it successfully motivated its followers to mark the fifth column in last year's status vote. Meanwhile, in the NPP, Senate President Charlie Rodríguez, who has been his own man and occasionally clashed with party leaders, including Gov. Pedro Rosselló, was defeated in his primary election.

Those examples, plus the immediate election-night attempts to heal the rift caused by the PDP primary for resident commissioner, all suggest party discipline is still alive.

Loser: Dr. Richard Machado. Prior to this election year, he was a man who lived the good life and was greeted warmly by the politicians he mingled with because he gave them money.

His campaign was a disaster. His television advertisements were clumsy and amateurish and their efforts to paint him as a devoted father and husband were ruined when news of his long-running extramarital affair surfaced. His alleged attempt to smear his opponent boomeranged on him.

After the election, he played the role of bitter outcast while the rest of the PDP came together. Rather than mayor of San Juan, he is the butt of jokes.

Maybe this campaign thing wasn't such a good idea after all.

Winner by a split decision: Pollsters. Although most pollsters failed to predict Acevedo Vilá's victory, their numbers were relatively close on the other races. The exception was the race between Jorge Santini and Rodríguez to be the NPP's candidate for mayor of San Juan. Polls differed on that one, and the Kaagen Research poll came closest to predicting the big win by Santini.

Which leads me finally to

Loser: Me. Nearly three months ago I wrote a column for this space questioning the Kaagen Research findings that Santini was ahead of Rodríguez 68 percent to 28 percent. Both other polls and anecdotal evidence convinced me (wrongly, as it turned out) that the race was much closer.

As is evident, in writing these reports I can't promise you clairvoyance. But at least you'll get accountability.


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

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