|Pedro Rosselló made it official this week. He wants to be in the Senate and he wants to be Senate president.
Political opponents, of course, are decrying the move.
Gov. Acevedo Vilá has said it was "an embarrassment" for Puerto Rico while the commonwealth Justice Department has pledged to launch a bribery investigation into the affair. But many within the New Progressive Party are questioning the wisdom of the move as well, especially given Rossellós political power as party president.
Foremost among them, of course, is veteran NPP Sen. Kenneth McClintock, in line for the upper chambers presidency, at least before Rosselló announced his intentions.
In the days following the federal appeals court in Bostons swift rejection of the NPPs request for a reconsideration of its decision not to enter Puerto Ricos electoral controversy, McClintock derided speculation that Rosselló was on the hunt for a Senate seat, as well as what looked like his presidency.
That was before the incoming freshman senator from Arecibo, Victor David Loubriel, resigned his seat, creating a vacancy for the former two-term governor.
Following the realization of Rossellós aspirations, McClintock called his try for the Senate a mistake that would hurt the former governors image as well as the NPPs political progress. In both instances, McClintock blamed it on a close circle of aides he said were giving Rosselló bad advice.
This is playing out, in the end, as an internal NPP battle, and the results of the political maneuvering in the coming days could will decide the future of the party a continuation of the Rosselló years or a moving on towards new leaders. If McClintock ascends to the presidency next Monday, it would take a majority of the Senate to unseat him, a sure impediment to the former governors aspirations to preside the political body. But that once seemingly sure thing is now anything but.
Rosselló came out on the losing side of a draw in the gubernatorial race, but he is still the most powerful political figure within the NPP. He got the most votes of any NPP politician running for office, and his energizing impact on party loyalists surely played a big role in the NPP wins in the Legislature and among town halls across the island, as well as the race for the islands sole Congressional seat.
Since the election, Rosselló has been the most combative of NPP politicians, refusing to confer legitimacy on the gubernatorial win of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, and criticizing NPP leaders, such as Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño and San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, both mentioned as possible successors to Rosselló, for attending the gubernatorial inauguration.
Commenting on reports that his former Police superintendent, Pedro Toledo, would be named to head the force by Acevedo Vilá, Rosselló said that if he were senator, he would refuse to confirm him unless he pledged loyalty to the NPP platform.
Most other NPP politicians, like McClintock, have their ears more finely attuned to public opinion, which seems to want to give this "shared government" (as opposed to a "divided government") a chance. Acevedo Vilá, perhaps because the effectiveness of his administration depends on it, has also been playing Mr. Compromise, not to mention recruiting NPP stalwarts like Toledo. Civility may be the new buzzword in Puerto Rican politics.
Rosselló denied for weeks that he was thinking of a move to the Senate, but no one doubts those close to the former governor and powerful figures within the NPP orchestrated the clumsily staged resignation of Loubriel. That, along with Rossellós refusal to concede defeat in the election, is not playing well with the general public.
Not everything Rosselló has said since losing the election has been negative. He said he approached his potential role in the Senate with an open mind and great enthusiasm. ?
Critics charge Rossellós move to the Senate would let him award close aides with lucrative jobs and allow him to qualify for the pension the Calderón administration ripped from him, arguing he provided no evidence for several months of government work and therefore was just shy of qualifying for a pension based on 30 years government service.
Being Senate president, but necessarily senator, would surely help consolidate Rossellós political power within the party. It would also afford the former governor the chance to interact with the general public on a daily basis and to play a major role in setting public policy, an opportunity to regain lost political strength.
Rosselló, like everybody else in the NPP, surely now must know that the combative approach of his campaign, which may have endeared him to NPP militants, cost him with other sectors of the general public -- sectors that might be key to a 2008 victory for the statehood party.
It could just be that he is now focusing on the NPP rank and file to secure his power base, before shifting gears for the next election.
John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net