Rosselló Prepares For New Role

by John Marino

February 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. As former Gov. Pedro Rosselló prepared this week for his new role as senator, internal squabbling between New Progressive Party figures made front-page news.

Former NPP Secretary General María Milagros Charbonier complained that the Rosselló campaign contracted one company to provide sound, lighting, stage and assorted other services during campaign activities even though two other companies had submitted lower bids. She said it was a point of contention between her and other top campaign officials.

NPP officials shot back that the interview showed the former NPP official was resentful since leaving her post, while others called for an end to airing dirty laundry in public.

El Nuevo Día newspaper, which has had bad blood with Rosselló since a lawsuit filed against his administration over advertising cancellations, made much about this "pattern of favoritism," even though the NPP did nothing illegal.

While public money partially financed last year‚s political campaign, the public finance campaign law passed by the previous Calderón administration treats campaign funds as private money, allowing parties to spend it on anything they want -- and as they deem fit.

Even Gov. Acevedo Vilá, when questioned on the report, appeared to defend the NPP. "This is not the same as the bid process in a government agency", Acevedo Vilá said, adding that factors other than price may carry more weight for parties. "There are many elements of trust involved in this issue because when someone is contracted for a campaign, one is given access to information."

The real dividing issue within the pro-statehood NPP -- which can be read between news reports, rather than in front-page headlines -- is the figure of Rosselló, intent on entering the Senate on Sunday, the anniversary of the birth of party founder Luis A. Ferré, and then wresting the presidency of the upper chamber from veteran lawmaker Kenneth McClintock.

Many within the party want to stick with Rosselló, who they see as a strong figure who can adequately deal with a Popular Democratic Party administration. Others say the former two-term governor has become too divisive a figure, and will only lead the party to another electoral defeat as leader of the statehood party.

Some Rosselló backers look on McClintock and Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño as "too weak." While their efforts at working with the PDP administration come from the best of intentions, and appear to be boosting their public support, McClintock and Fortuño will only play into the hands of the their political enemies in the end, they add.

„The populares are like the Republicans. They will do anything to win," said one NPP observer, a Democrat. "Many within the party feel you need someone strong like Rosselló to deal with Acevedo Vilá."

That point was driven home this week, when Fortuño‚s boyish face appeared on the front page of a newspaper, calling for an "investigation" into Charbonier‚s allegations. The overblown play of an out-of-context remark prompted him to clarify the next day that the NPP did nothing illegal by not picking the lowest bidder. Indeed, the winning bidder coordinated a whole range of services needed for a variety of campaign activities, a particularly valued skill in the heat of the race. He called for an end of public bickering.

It was a big gaffe by the freshman Republican congressman, but it did not ruin his week. The release of the Bush budget, which despite its steep cuts protected such Puerto Rico issues as retaining the rum rebate tax at current levels and the federal child tax credit to island families, represented a huge Fortuño victory.

Meanwhile, Acevedo Vilá has been talking about consensus and reaching beyond party lines for the good of Puerto Rico. During this honeymoon period, he has generally received public praise for his first 30 days in office. But most statehooders believe his overtures stem from nothing more than an instinct for political survival, and they argue NPP leaders should be shooting for the kill.

Pedro Rosselló, as Arecibo senator or Senate president, will undoubtedly come out gunning at the administration. He has also promised to bring the Urban Train to the northwest district he now represents, and to ensure that the major aspects of the NPP party platform get enacted.

Come Monday morning, if as expected the new senator reports to work, expect a heating up of political rhetoric, and a powerful political drama to unfold.

NPP senators appear to be sticking to their support of McClintock, although many within the party believe this will melt away with the advent of Sen. Rosselló. Even without the Senate presidency, the position will offer Rosselló a high public platform to reach out to the party rank and file he wants to engage.

And the NPP knows only too well that institutional support does not necessarily translate into electoral victory. Jorge Santini crushed Charlie Rodríguez in a primary for San Juan mayor, even though most NPP leaders endorsed Rodríguez.

Since taking office, the governor has been skating through lifestyle interviews and public appearances at press conferences and entertainment shows, avoiding in-depth interviews on the stances of his administration. He‚s invited the general public to tour La Fortaleza on Sunday, the same day Rosselló is slated to be sworn in to the Senate.

And then there are those tripartisan committees like Acevedo Vilá‚s tax reform panel, aimed at buffering himself from the political fallout of taking unpopular decisions, a temptation of trying to govern through executive order.

NPP leaders, notably Sen. Orlando Parga, are raising their voices to criticize the path taken so far by Acevedo Vilá. But these voices are not nearly as loud, one suspects, as the voice of Pedro Rosselló will be starting next week.

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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