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PUERTO RICO REPORT
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
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
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
Winner: The "You gotta pay your dues" faction.
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