Pierluisi, Delgado win Puerto Rico primaries
SAN JUAN — Former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, 60, and Isabela Mayor Carlos Delgado Altieri, 61, will face off in the race for governor of Puerto Rico in the Nov. 3 elections after winning their respective New Progressive Party (NPP) and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) primaries, which ended Sunday with a relatively low participation rate.
After voting ended at 4 p.m. Sunday—the second day of primaries, after delays in the availability of ballots marred the voting day scheduled a week earlier—Pierluisi maintained a sizable lead over incumbent Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who was trailing by about 15%, or 38,000 votes, early morning Monday, with close to 80% of polling stations reported, according to the State Elections Commission.
Meanwhile, Delgado came out as the surprise winner on the PDP side, securing a commanding victory over veteran Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, with 63.1% of votes compared with Bhatia’s 23.6% and Soto’s 13.3%, according to the latest poll numbers posted a little after midnight.
Pierluisi faces an uphill climb to unite his party after his contender, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, declined to support him in her concession speech on Sunday night before supporters at her campaign headquarters, accusing him of tarnishing her name with a negative campaign.
His campaign ads on television focused on the allegations of corruption in the Vázquez administration involving the handling of aid to earthquake victims in the southern part of the island and the aborted purchase of Covid-19 testing kits. The ads also questioned the governor’s statehood credentials by airing television spots in which the governor appears in an interview saying that solving Puerto Rico’s status was not a priority.
The governor faces a criminal investigation by the Puerto Rico Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel (OPFEI by its Spanish initials) into her role in alleged irregularities involving the handling of the distribution of relief supplies for the victims of the earthquakes that devastated the southwestern part of the island earlier this year.
“I know that one of the pending questions is about my support for attorney Pierluisi. The most important thing in this process is that he must go after and aspire to those thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans who believed in this servant and who gave me their vote, who believed in making a difference, in making a different government outside of [party] politics, thinking of the people, being the voice of the people… those people are the ones [he] should aspire to convince,” said Vázquez, who at one point called herself “a determined and brave woman.”
“I presented myself as a different candidate because I understood that the people demanded genuine change in the way of doing politics,” she continued. “But because of this I never gave up on my principles when (I) was called to do what in the campaign management world is called negative campaigns with the purpose of discrediting my opponent. (…) You could see, from the first moment I started my campaign, how my opponent’s team resorted to the same attack tactics used in 2016. That is not my style nor will it be ever.”
The governor quickly left the press conference without fielding questions from reporters at her campaign headquarters in San Juan.
Pierluisi’s victory represented a comeback for the attorney, who as recently as July of last year was completely out of the limelight of politics. In the 2016 primaries, he was defeated by former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who at the end of July 2019 resigned amid mounting massive protests over corruption in his administration and his participation in an offensive Telegram chat.
Pierluisi briefly served as governor after Rosselló’s resignation became effective on Aug. 2, 2019, but five days later the Puerto Rico Supreme Court determined that his swearing in was unconstitutional because his appointment as Secretary of State by Rosselló had not been approved by both chambers of the Legislative Assembly. Then-Justice Secretary Vázquez, in the line of succession, was promptly sworn into office only hours after the court decision on Aug. 7, 2019.
Pierluisi was more conciliatory in his acceptance speech, acknowledging the “bravery” of Gov. Vázquez in having assumed the governorship “at times of great challenges,” and lending his “support” until the governor’s term ends Jan. 1, 2021.
“To those for who any reason did not support me, you should know that all of you have my total respect. The only thing I ask of you is to do the same thing that I did – to unite for the cause,” he said, stressing his allegiance to the goal of statehood for Puerto Rico. “We are a team and that cause is above the aspirations and interests of any one of us. I count on the support of all NPP [followers] and all statehooders.”
Pierluisi said the results of the primary gave him the “energy and strength” the party will need to defeat the Popular Democratic Party and win a statehood referendum to be held along with the Nov. 3 general elections.
“The moment has come for our party to become again new and progressive,” he said, calling on the party faithful to return to the party’s roots under its founder, Luis A. Ferré.
PDP nominee pledges ‘second transformation’
Meanwhile, Delgado said in his acceptance speech that the party would be open to all of those Puerto Ricans who believe in his plan for a “second transformation of Puerto Rico,” which he contrasted with the “first great transformation” under former governor and PDP founder Luis Muñoz Marín in the 20th century.
“I want to make it clear that no Popular has defeated another Popular. We are all united here and very aware of the mission that we have ahead for Puerto Rico. We look firmly towards the future of Puerto Rico,” said the PDP gubernatorial nominee, who just a few months ago was behind Bhatia and Cruz in the polls.
“In 80 days, the people of Puerto Rico will have in its hands the fundamental decision to choose between two paths. One of them, which we all know, proposes to continue with corruption, mismanagement and the misrule of the NPP in Puerto Rico, which now will be led by the attorney and lobbyist for the Financial [Oversight and] Management Board, Mr. Pedro Pierluisi. But contrary to that path, the [PDP] offers the country a new government whose highest purpose is honesty and respect to the people. People are expecting and demanding a second transformation that restores trust in their institutions and that provides the people with a sensible, responsible and righteous government,” said Delgado, a former athlete and pharmacy owner who became mayor of the northwest town of Isabela in 2001.
He proposed a five-point program involving the implementation of a “universal health plan providing all citizens with basic coverage,” an “advanced” education system that considers the University of Puerto Rico as an investment and not a cost, a “sustainable” economic development plan for Puerto Rico that stimulates local businesses, an anti-crime plan that stresses prevention and rehabilitation of convicts, as well as an environmental protection and food safety plan.
“We are convoked by a patriotic duty to go out in defense of our people, to open the doors of this institution of the Popular Democratic Party to all of those Puerto Ricans who seek, like we do, the common welfare and a new solidarity for the people,” the Isabela mayor said, noting that he will announce his campaign team in the next few days. “But to earn that trust from the people, from our Popular brothers and the whole country, it is necessary for that transformation to begin at home, at this party, at the [PDP]. This party must evolve, it must elevate its level of action to respond to the challenges we have before us…”
In his advertising campaign, Delgado was portrayed as a countryside small-town everyman who pledged to fight corruption. On Sunday, he reiterated this, promising to depoliticize public service.
“The attitudes of understanding the pain of our people must begin with each unit of service, each agency, each public corporation,” he said. “Each employee has to know that they represent a people, not a government; that they represent the best of being Puerto Rican. This connecting project will not be the work of any one party but of all of us, an effort outside of party lines and ideology. That is the path I want to establish.”
Delgado said that he “counted on” the support of his primary contenders, Bhatia and Cruz.
Bhatia, who was ahead in the polls, said he accepted the results of the primary with “a great sense of democratic responsibility.”
“I prefer to be defeated in a massive electoral contest, with people participating, than having people in dark rooms deciding the candidacy,” he said.
For her part, Cruz posted a social media message in which she thanked her supporters, noting her 25 years within the PDP.
“If in some way I defrauded you, my apologies. (…) These are the only expressions I will make during this election cycle in Puerto Rico,” she twitted. “One losses an election, but there is no defeat.”
Also vying to become the island’s next governor in the Nov. 3 elections are Sen. Juan Dalmau of the Puerto Rican Independence Party; former independent gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro for the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (Citizens’ Victory Movement); farmer and engineer Eliezer Molina of the Movimiento Consciencia (Conscience Movement); and Dr. César Vázquez of Proyecto Dignidad (Dignity Project).
Legislative, municipal races
For the NPP senator-at-large delegation, the top positions were held by new faces in the party. William Villafañe, a former chief of staff of ousted Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, obtained the lead in votes, followed by Gregorio Matías, a former police officer; Keren Riquelme, a pastor and professor; and veteran lawmaker Itzamar Peña.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz barely got on the general elections ticket, settling in fifth place, a far cry from previous times in which he was usually the top vote-getter, while controversial candidates Héctor Martínez and Evelyn Vázquez were left out of the running altogether.
On the representative-at-large ticket for the NPP, José Torres Zamora, José Enrique Meléndez, José Aponte Hernández and Lourdes Ramos received the most votes.
Meanwhile, María Milagros Charbonier, a divisive figure in the party who is the subject of an FBI investigation and was arrested by federal authorities on corruption charges Monday morning, came in last.
On the PDP side of things, José Luis Dalmau, Aníbal José Torres, Brenda Lápez de Arrarás, Luis Vega Ramos and former Treasury Secretary Juan Zaragoza came out on top, while Héctor Ferrer (son and namesake of the party president, who died in 2018), Jesús Manuel Ortiz, Keyliz Méndez, Yaramary Torres, Gabriel López and Enid Monge did the same for the representative-at-large primary ballot.
While the PDP has had elections for party president, the party’s gubernatorial primary this year was the first in its 82-year history.
One factor for the low participation rate was the fear of contracting Covid-19, which likely kept many voters away from the polls. The island’s population has also decreased by about 200,000 people during the last four years.
In the municipal mayor side of things, Miguel Romero secured the PNP candidacy for San Juan, while Guaynabo incumbent Ángel Pérez did the same against two other pre-candidates, among them Edward O’Neill, son of former Mayor Héctor O’Neill, who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment in 2017. Elsewhere on the island, Ponce Mayor María Meléndez secured her candidacy for re-election, while Lornna Soto did the same in Canóvanas.
New Progressive Party:
Pedro Pierluisi: 138,090 (57.8 percent)
Wanda Vázquez Garced: 100,865 (42.2 percent)
From reporting of 3,288 polling stations out of 4,120, or 79.8 percent
Total votes cast: 238,955
Registered in polling stations: 1,957,761
Total ballots cast: 244,327
Participation: 12.35 percent
Popular Democratic Party:
Carlos Delgado Altieri: 105,326 (63.1 percent)
Eduardo Bhatia: 39,371 (23.6 percent)
Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto: 22,189 (13.3 percent)
From reporting of 1,578 polling stations out of 2,133, or 74 percent
Total votes cast: 166,886
Registered in polling stations: 1,770,383
Total ballots cast: 168,664
Participation: 9.5 percent