Candidate Profile: Aníbal Acevedo Vilá
October 19, 2000
As President of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) from 1997-99, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá came to Washington on several occassions for Congressional hearings on the United States-Puerto Rico Status Act. At that time, he argued against statehood and independence and for an "improved" version of the current commonwealth status. Now his partys candidate for Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Acevedo Vilá is hoping to return to Washington with the message of enhanced commonwealth.
Acevedo Vilá is 38 years old, making him the youngest of the three candidates for Resident Commissioner. He received degrees in political science and law from the University of Puerto Rico, and he earned a Masters in Law from Harvard.
His early career centered more on law than politics. He worked for a judge on the Puerto Rico Supreme Court and for the Chief Judge of the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. In 1989, however, he returned to Puerto Rico for a job as a Legislative Advisor to Governor Rafael Hernández Colón.
In 1992, Acevedo Vilá won an at-large seat in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives. In his first term, he focused on government reform, retirement benefits, and the criminal justice system. He also campaigned for commonwealth in the status plebiscite of 1993, when that option edged out statehood by a margin on 48% to 46%.
Elected to a second term in 1996, Acevedo Vilá became the President of the PDP in February of the following year, when he was only 35 years old. He spent much of the next two years working in opposition to efforts for a Congressionally-sanctioned status plebiscite in Puerto Rico, ultimately urging Puerto Ricans to vote for "None of the Above" in the local plebiscite of 1998. That option obtained a slight majority - 50.2% - of the votes.
When Sila Calderón announced her intention to run for Governor of Puerto Rico in 1999, Acevedo Vilá stepped down as president of the party, a role traditionally held by gubernatorial candidates. He became instead the PDP choice for Resident Commissioner, but not without a struggle. Jose Hernández Mayoral, a political novice and the son of former Governor Hernández Colón, mounted a surprise challenge in the PDP primary. However, with the strong support of Sila Calderón, Acevedo Vilá prevailed.
In the current race to represent Puerto Rico as a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Acevedo Vilá has promised to defend the commonwealth status and push for its enhancement. "The PDP commitment is to establish a process to present a proposal to develop commonwealth so that the people of Puerto Rico can govern without being beneath the powers of anyone," he said recently.
According to recent polls, Acevedo Vilá is in a virtual tie with incumbent Resident Commissioner and former Governor Carlos Romero-Barceló of the New Progressive Party (NPP).