|January 28, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Pedro Rossellós Quest: Where Will It End?
Two years ago, Pedro Rosselló, Puerto Ricos Governor from 1992 until 2000, was comfortably lecturing on global health at George Washington Universitys Medical School and chairing its Joint Committee of Faculty and Students. At the time, press efforts to get him to comment on Puerto Rican politics and the developing scandals of his past administration were fruitless. The cap and gown seemed permanent articles in his wardrobe.
In Puerto Rico, his New Progressive Party (NPP) was being assaulted by the rival Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and its sitting Governor, Sila Calderón. Federal prosecutors were charging members of his former cabinet with allegations of influence peddling and bribery, and convicting some of them. Rosselló was not implicated, but the hunt was on by his detractors to find evidence to link him personally to the corrupt practices.
Then, according to sources close to him, on a brief return to the island, the former two-term Governor of the New Progressive Party (NPP) asked, "what can I do to help the Party?" He was, at first, unresponsive to the suggestion, "return to the island and run for Governor," but his ultimate answer is now well known. Pedro Rosselló closed the books on academia and returned to the rough and tumble of Puerto Rican politics to run for Governor in 2004.
At the time, the former Development Chief in Rossellós administration, Carlos Pesquera, was President of the Party and its presumptive gubernatorial candidate in 2004, even though he had been soundly defeated in the 2000 election by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Sila Calderón. NPP greybeards considered Pesquera a weak candidate, even though Ms. Calderón was viewed by many prospective voters as an inept Governor and it was thought that she would be vulnerable in any reelection campaign.
Almost every NPP former and actual elected official sprinted to Rossellós banner, leaving Pesquera virtually without support. Still, he continued the charade of an active candidate until he was swamped in a primary contest by the former Governor. After that contest, Rosselló seemed invincible. Early polls showed him with leads as high as 30% over Governor Calderón.
And then "Political Hurricane Sila" swept the island. In a tearful television "goodbye," the Governor said that her "long career" in government was to be over after her term was complete in 2004. The decision was, of course, attributed to "personal reasons," but the political cognoscenti of both parties presumed that she was simply shuttering her political windows against the impending destruction of "Typhoon Pedro."
The PDP, in disarray after Ms. Calderóns announced abdication, finally settled on Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the then Resident Commissioner, as the candidate to oppose Rosselló for Governor. Few gave him the chance to prevail. His campaign, however, was skillful and he made a direct appeal to members of the Independence Party (PIP) to help him stop Rosselló and his plan to move the island towards U.S. Statehood. "Vote Mixto," he said. "Vote under your partys insignia, but choose the PDP candidates for Governor and Resident Commissioner. Give me pivazos (the slang word for that type of vote)."
During the long campaign, Rosselló enjoyed no less than a 10-point lead in the polls over Acevedo, but in the final weeks the margin began to narrow. In a Herald poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation of Cambridge, Massachusetts one week before Election Day, Rossellós lead had shrunk to 5% and the percentage of undecided voters had shrunk to 12% from the 19% it had been the week before. Voters were making up their minds and Acevedo seemed to be gaining ground. Interestingly, in the same survey, Rubén Berríos, the PIP gubernatorial candidate could claim 5% of the vote. Ultimately, he earned less than 3% support from the voters.
On the evening of November 2nd, Pedro Rosselló received what must have been the shock of his life. Voters gave his NPP Party control of the Legislature, a majority of the mayoral posts and the office of Resident Commissioner, but they gave him nothing. His opponent, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, had been given the governorship by the thinnest of margins, some 0.02%, requiring a recount that subsequently confirmed the PDP victory. The PIP pivazos had provided the margin of victory for Acevedo Vilá.
All along, Mr. Rosselló has refused to concede defeat. His seven-week fight in the federal courts ended when judges declined to rule on the admissibility of the pivazos, deciding that it was a local matter. The local courts, in so many words, said that that kind of voting had been taking place in past elections and nobody ever complained about it so the pivazos should count.
And so, on December 23rd, the State Elections Commission declared Aníbal Acevedo Vilá the winner and on January 2nd of this year he was sworn in as Puerto Ricos Governor. Pedro Rosselló, the NPP President and presumptive savior of the party was left without an elected position.
The NPP would have none of it. Since political parties can replace departing legislators, one of the NPP elected Senators would need to step down to allow their defeated champion a voice in government and, once in his Senate seat, he would need to be the bodys President, even though another NPP leader, Kenneth McClintock, had already been elected to that position.
Most of this has fallen into place, albeit with some squealing by losers in the process. Victor Loubriel, the elected Senator from Arecibo, gracefully stepped aside. The only vocal dissenter has been former Senator Calvin Tirado who aspires to win the vacated seat in a primary battle with Rosselló. Fat chance!
As the Herald goes to web, Pedro Rosselló is poised to be sworn in as a Senator. So far, the NPP Senators seem reluctant to jettison their elected President, Kenneth McClintock, but they have not yet felt the full weight of NPP pressure in favor of the Partys President. Party insiders who have spoken to the press say that Rosselló is adamant about becoming President of the Senate and will pull out all stops to achieve it.
For those who doubt the persistence of Pedro Rosselló, let them talk to Carlos Pesquera, Sila Calderón and Victor Loubriel.
Do you think that Pedro Rosselló will enter the Senate and be elected its President?