Sunday, November 9, 2008

Paterson Woos The Puerto Rican Vote,

Side-Steps Statehood

November 9, 2008

Gov. David Paterson may physically be here in Puerto Rico, but his thoughts are trained on former island residents back home in New York and the key role they might play in his 2010 election.

"I do want to be re-elected governor, and I will not be without the Puerto Rican community behind me and the other Hispanic communities of New York State - over 3.3 million people are Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Ecuadorian, Panamanian, and of Mexican descent; it's very important for us to be here," Paterson said this morning after a breakfast meeting with incoming PR Gov. Luis Fortuno.

The Puerto Rican vote is particularly key because the island's status as a self-governing commonwealth automatically gives transplants the right to vote in US elections (as long as they're registered), which is not the case for those who hail from the Spanish-speaking countries Paterson listed.

The governor touted the fact that he is using campaign funds to pay for his trip here to attend the Somos el Futuro conference and said he had decided not to use public dollars in part due to the political nature of the event and also because of the state's fiscal crisis.

The governor is accompanied by his wife, First Lady Michelle Paige Paterson, as well as a mini-flotilla of aides and members of his security detail.

Even though Paterson opted not to have the taxpayers foot the bill for his Caribbean trip, which also included a stop in St. Maarten for an economic conference, he nevertheless drew some criticism from good government groups who questioned whether the governor's working vacation was an appropriate use of campaign funds.

The issue of campaign funds is a touchy one here since the outgoing governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vila, was indicted in March on federal charges of campaign finance violations and tax fraud. Among the charges are that he used campaign cash to pay for family vacations, "high end" clothing and personal credit card bills.

The scandal provided an in for Fortuno, a Republican who is Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Washington, to defeat Vila, a Democrat, earlier this month by an unusually wide margin.

Fortuno is a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico - a controversial and long-running debate that became an issue during the Democratic presidential primary (supporters of Hillary Clinton, who carried the island, tended to be in the pro-statehood camp, while those who voted for Barack Obama, were not).

When I asked Paterson about his position on statehood, he side-stepped the issue by saying:

"I think that this is something that inevitably the way it would work would be to grant the people on the island of Puerto Rico to make that decision, not the governor of New York. I have often been the beneficiary of others from outside telling us what is best for us. I’m not going to engage in that. What we would hope is that the opptortunity for that decision would come."

Paterson, in his usual way, cracked some jokes during the brief press conference. He told Fortuno that he is a "lucky man" because he has two months to work on his transition - a luxury the governor of New York did not have.

"I envy you," Paterson said. "I didn’t have two months to put together a transition. They just said, 'Hey you. You’re governor.' And so you don’t know how much I envy you; you don’t know what a lucky man you are."

doublegovs 003

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