Rosselló Battles On

by John Marino

January 28, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Former Gov. Pedro Rosselló took another step towards a Senate seat this week but opposition by New Progressive Party senators may thwart his plans to wrest the Senate presidency from veteran lawmaker Kenneth McClintock.

The NPP Governing Board certified Rosselló as the only candidate to take the Arecibo district seat left vacant by the resignation of freshman Sen. Víctor Loubriel. Rosselló still faces a legal challenge by former NPP Sen. Calvin Tirado, who wants Rosselló barred from taking his seat and wants the NPP to be forced to choose a replacement for Loubriel through primaries.

While most observers say it is likely that the NPP will prevail over the court challenge, they add that opposition by party senators may just as likely stop the former two-term governor and NPP president from assuming the top Senate job.

Following a late-night meeting between Rosselló and the NPP Senate delegation, several senators said that McClintock's role as Senate president was fortified in the process. Much of it, they said, rested on McClintock’s ability to keep his composure, and it was telling that afterwards, he described the meeting as "cordial." Rosselló was apparently anything but cordial during the meeting. Several NPP senators, speaking on condition of anonymity, told local reporters the meeting was a "disaster" and a "shouting match."

Much of the delegation appeared to be trying to talk Rosselló out of his plan to seek the Senate presidency, according to reports in The San Juan STAR and other local media. But the former governor insisted that the party base wanted him in the post and that it would work to fortify the party. NPP senators, aware of the solid opposition both from inside and outside the statehood party, countered that it would hurt the party. A few NPP senators, speaking privately, said the former governor was "irrational" and acted like a "madman" during the caucus meeting. Others said that Rosselló’s dark side appeared.

The day following the meeting, the former governor gave a one-hour interview on the WAPA radio station, the same media outlet he chose to launch his reelection campaign. The station’s listenership has been a strong supporter of Rosselló’s drive for the Senate presidency. The interview represented the most extensive public comments he has made since losing the governor’s race. The former governor has shunned media interviews, and has declined to talk to reporters when appearing in public.

Rosselló appeared confident that he would attain the top Senate job, and said it was "the people" who wanted him in the post. "The people are asking me to aspire to the presidency. I respond to what I interpret as the people's desire, their petition. This is not a job for me, this is a cause. This is a matter of having a cause to fight for and the leadership to carry it forward."

The former governor said that senators who withdrew their support of McClintock would not be acting improperly. "In politics everybody knows this. And you also have to do what's best for your party. You don't have to give someone your word and keep it forever. You give your word in particular moments. Things have changed now. Life is a series of changing scenarios. With each different scenario, you have to make up your mind."

But it is fair to say that a majority of Puerto Rico’s residents see something anti-democratic in Rosselló’s quest to preside the Senate. That opposition appears mirrored in his future Senate colleagues within his party and other NPP sectors.

Given such opposition, and the public beating he appears to be taking, the question remains: why is Rosselló doing this?

Supporters will take Rosselló at his word and say the post offers his best chance to effectuate public policy on health and crime fighting initiatives and work to resolve Puerto Rico’s status quagmire. He spoke directly to them during the Wednesday radio interview, expressing confidence that positive action on status could take place in this four-year term despite the fact he lost La Fortaleza.

Cynics say it’s all about Rosselló wanting to qualify for the 30-year government pension the Calderón administration had rolled back, and being in a position of power to confront any accusations in the ongoing local and federal corruption investigations stemming from his former administration.

More reasoned minds reckon that it’s mostly about Rosselló truly wanting another shot in La Fortaleza, and his determination to attempt another gubernatorial run in 2008. The Senate presidency would give him a prominent platform from which to compete for the job.

He’s not worried so much about Gov. Acevedo Vilá or the year 2008 just yet. It’s more about 2006, and a looming challenge to his party leadership post, by say Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño or San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini.

That’s why Rosselló is talking to "his people" on WAPA radio. That’s why he appears dismissive of the concept of a "shared government" and still employs the fiery rhetoric of the electoral campaign. He is trying to keep the party loyalists on his side.

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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