Rosselló vs. McClintock

by John Marino

January 14, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. A day after Kenneth McClintock was sworn in as Senate president, the New Progressive Party Governing Board announced that it would back former Gov. Pedro Rosselló for a vacant Senate seat as he reiterated his intention to try to wrest the upper chamber’s leadership post from the veteran politician.

The NPP also decided to emphasize Rosselló’s leadership role as party president by appointing Thomas Rivera Schatz as its secretary general. He defended the former governor from allegations that his 30-year pension was granted based on bad data, and he led the party’s pursuit of a federal court challenge to the results of the Nov. 2 election. Throughout the campaign, Rivera Schatz was a loyal party attack dog.

The Rosselló-McClintock battle makes for dramatic political theater in the aftermath of an unpredictable election campaign, which left Puerto Rico with its first "divided" or "shared" government since islanders began electing their own governors more than a half-century ago. After the last election, venturing a bet on a winner would be a truly hazardous enterprise just now.

On the one hand, McClintock, duly sworn in to his leadership post, has said he would not quit; he would have to be stripped of his post. Senate rules require a unanimous Senate vote to do just that, a practical impossibility because of the minority opposition.

On the other hand, heavy NPP political pressure, delivered by heavyweights like Rosselló, Carlos Romero Barceló and powerful mayors, could do much to change the Senate president’s stance. So could the threat of party sanctions. NPP leaders say a majority of the NPP senatorial caucus would be enough for Rosselló to win the top job in the Senate.

The photo of the NPP Governing Board meeting spoke volumes. Rosselló was separated from McClintock by none other than Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño and San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, the two most likely successors to Rosselló’s maximum leader status within the pro-statehood party.

McClintock would be a likely resident commissioner running mate for either a Santini or a Fortuño on a 2008 gubernatorial run. As Senate president, he holds the highest elected post by a local pro-statehood Democrat, a nice pairing with either Republican. And he is taking pains in his new role to be as statesmanlike and non-partisan as possible, a requirement of the new political correctness that has gripped politicians from all political parties since the Popular Democratic Party captured La Fortaleza, despite losing the Legislature, Puerto Rico’s sole congressional post and a majority among island town halls to the NPP.

There is a solid faction of support for Rosselló’s drive for the top Senate job within the NPP among hard-core loyalists, who have been making a lot of noise. Powerful figures like Romero Barceló and veteran mayors are also backing the push to win the party’s president the Senate presidency. Rosselló supporters say once the former governor gets a Senate seat, McClintock’s support among colleagues will peel away.

But the general public has largely bashed the former governor’s efforts to take over an elected seat after losing the La Fortaleza race. And has blasted as undemocratic the machinations to have a freshman senator resign his seat to create a vacancy for the former governor. Rosselló is becoming synonymous with the brand of hardball politics that the general public is increasingly rejecting.

In the meantime, Gov. Acevedo Vilá has set about showing that he is serious about this "shared government." Among other things he has appointed Pedro Toledo, the architect of Rosselló’s ITALIC mano dura ITALIC crime-fighting strategy, to run the Police Department again. And he has taken pains to show he is willing to work with NPP leaders like McClintock, Santini and Fortuño. That is winning public approval points, while Rosselló’s statements that Acevedo Vilá is not a "legitimate" governor are being criticized as the whining of a sore loser.

It didn’t have to be this way. As party president, and head of the NPP legislative caucus, Rosselló would wield great political power to ensure that NPP pledges were enacted. He could have brushed off calls by supporters to enter the Senate, rather than get into a tussle with pro-statehood senators.

Sure the Senate presidency would increase Rosselló’s power, but perhaps is not worth the price it is currently costing the former governor — a public outcry against the move and an internal party battle. The fact that McClintock and his Senate delegation has so far defied the NPP president, only adds to the appearance that Rosselló’s drive for the Senate is costing him dearly.

Rosselló may succeed in wresting control of the Senate from McClintock, but if he does not, his days as party leader are numbered.

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

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