García Padilla Bows Out
PDP Candidates Jockey for Position
BY JUAN A HERNÁNDEZ
With recent surveys showing very low approval ratings and after several months of speculation, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla announced Monday he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2016 to concentrate all his energy and eff orts on working to develop the necessary solutions to resolve Puerto Rico’s ongoing fiscal crisis.
“Even though I want to with all my heart, I won’t seek my re-election to the governor’s office,” said García Padilla in a prerecorded message Monday afternoon, as first reported by CB Online Saturday.
Arguing there is an inherent conflict between the time demanded by “the tough decisions that have to be made and the requirements of a political campaign,” he opted out of the gubernatorial race, reiterating his commitment to Puerto Rico’s future.
“These times require a greater loyalty to the future than to the present…. These times require having greater loyalty to the people than to the person,” said García Padilla, who at times seemed to be choked up with emotion.
His announcement comes at a crucial time for Puerto Rico as the commonwealth is struggling with a $70 billion debt load, a nearly 10-year economic depression and massive out-migration of thousands of local residents to the U.S. mainland.
The governor also took the opportunity to denounce, without naming them, several of his fellow Popular Democratic Party (PDP) members for “making solutions more difficult,” thus siding with the opposition.
“The lack of solidarity due to the insensitivity and irresponsibility of an opposition, both external and from within, that prioritizes on its own ideologies and electoral interests makes everything more difficult… makes the slope even steeper,” said García Padilla, who was evidently referring to the group of six dissident legislators in the House of Representatives and the mayors of San Juan, Comerío and San Germán.
With García Padilla out of the race, former Secretary of State David Bernier, now the widely expected PDP gubernatorial candidate, is expected to announce his candidacy this very same week.
Bernier, who resigned as Secretary of State in October, was adamant in conditioning his availability to run for governor to García Padilla’s announcement not to run for re-election. It was Bernier’s belief that having served under García Padilla as his second in command (the secretary of State serves as acting governor whenever the governor is out of Puerto Rico or indisposed) “it wouldn’t be proper” to challenge him for La Fortaleza.
Since his appointment as Secretary of State, Bernier has been identified as one of the PDP’s rising stars, even though some observers say he has had very little political experience. Although he is a former Sports & Recreation secretary and former director of the Office of Youth Affairs during Gov. Sila María Calderón’s administration, Bernier is mainly recognized for his achievements as an international athlete and as the former president of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee. Since he isn’t someone emerging from traditional politics that has seemingly prompted many among the PDP leadership to consider Bernier “the only candidate with a real chance to win [the governorship] in the 2016 elections.”
In fact, Bernier has the backing of the PDP’s historical leader, former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón, and the Puerto Rico Mayors’ Association, which groups PDP-affiliated mayors.
But Bernier may not be the only gubernatorial hopeful in the PDP. Senate President Eduardo Bhatia also has been regularly mentioned as a possible contender, along with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto. Both Bhatia and Cruz Soto have yet to make an announcement on whether they will run for La Fortaleza.
As recently as last week, Cruz Soto publicly stated she was in the process of reconsidering her own political future, hinting at the possibility of running for governor if García Padilla dropped out. However, that possibility has been quickly dismissed by her closest collaborators, who reiterated what has been an open secret; that Cruz Soto’s sights are set on the 2020 elections.
As for Bhatia, even though he has kept his relation with the governor civil, it is also an open secret that he is very dissatisfied with García Padilla’s actions and decisions and has expressed to some in his inner circle “anyone can do better,” when asked if Bhatia thought he could be a better governor.
Bhatia has also been mentioned for the post of Resident Commissioner, not only because of his academic background— with degrees from Princeton and Stanford—and political connections in Washington, D.C., but also because he reportedly isn’t considered the best PDP candidate for the governorship by some influential party leaders. Regardless of the reasons for sending Bhatia to Washington, a Bernier-Bhatia ballot is considered a strong ticket among the PDP faithful.
The only hurdle left in the PDP race would be Bernier himself, who reportedly prefers PDP Sen. Ángel Rosa, chairman of the Senate Treasury & Public Finance Committee, over Bhatia.
Neither Rosa nor Bhatia have expressed whether they will seek re-election as senators or run for another office.
—Assistant Editor Rosario Fajardo and CB Online Staff contributedto this story.