Controversies over Boricua voter registration drives: Leaders accuse Puerto Rican Governor Sila Calderon of favoring Pataki

Without the presence of New York Democratic Puerto Rican politicians, Puerto Rico Governor Sila Maria Calderon initiated a voter registration campaign. Jose Rivera, state assemblyman and president of the Bronx Democratic party, said he did not help launch the campaign because Governor Calderon did not directly contact Puerto Rican civic, political and religious leaders here.

“We found out at the last minute last week. If it is intended to give the Puerto Rican community power, she should have met with us,” Rivera said. “We worry about rumors that this is a political trick to favor Bush and the Republicans. Since things are not clear we will not participate in any circus because we are not clowns,” he added.

The disagreements between the Puerto Rican leaders and Governor Calderon emerge because of her ties to Republican New York Governor, George Pataki, who is running for re-election. The majority of the Puerto Rican Democrats support State Comptroller H. Carl McCall for governor.

A fundraising initiative, called “Que nada nos detenga (Nothing will hold us back),” generated controversy both in Puerto Rico and New York because more than six million contributors will be solicited.

The decision to hire publicity firm Garcia LKS has been debated too, because its owner is Mexican, rather than Puerto Rican, and was connected to George Bush’s presidential campaign. However, Calderon said the campaign is nonpartisan, and will aid both Democrats and Republicans. “I am not affiliated with either party,” she said. She said, about the Democrats’ absence, “maybe they have not understood all that we are doing.”

Calderon kicked off the voter registration campaign at the Grand Street Settlement Community Center, on the Lower East Side. The drive, coordinated by the Association of Federal Affairs from Puerto Rico, will try to register 300,000 Puerto Ricans for the 2004 presidential elections. The drive focuses on the 10 states in which 80 percent of the 3.4 million U.S.-based Boricuas reside.

Deputy Mayor of Legal Affairs Carol Robles Roman, New Jersey Commissioner of the Department of Personnel Ida Castro, Ely Jurado, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, 1199/SEIU Union President Dennis Rivera and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo all attended.

Pataki, who called Governor Calderon his friend, said that millions of people died fighting for the right to vote and it would be a crime not to exercise it. As usual, Pataki spoke in Spanish. “Today is a very important day. Our future depends on our responsibility,” he said in Spanish.

Calderon said that the “Que nada nos detenga” fundraising campaign would be launched on the 50th anniversary of the Puerto Rican Constitution, which established Puerto Rico’s status as a commonwealth associated with the United States. She also said that, on the island, 80 percent of the eligible people vote; in the United States only 40 percent do.

“Democracy is a precious gift…Don’t let anything stop us in Puerto Rico or in the United States. I hope that the campaign reflects the spirit and determination of Puerto Ricans who will not just register but vote,” said Calderon.

To kick off the campaign, Calderon and Pataki registered Delia Rodriguez and her daughter Renee Torres. “For health reasons, I never voted. If our community wants medicine, education and homes they must participate,” Rodriguez said.

“Puerto Ricans must lose their fear of participating in the electoral process,” added Dora Irizarry, a Republican candidate for New York Attorney General.

Lorraine Cortez Vasquez, president of the Hispanic Federation, pointed out that Puerto Ricans have no excuse not to vote. “We have no barriers, since we are citizens and we should not just register, but also vote.”

Juan Figueroa, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, attributed low Puerto Rican electoral participation to their lack of incorporation into society and poverty rates.

Editor’s note: Boricua is another word for Puerto Rican.

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