Puerto Rico Pro-Statehood Governor Candidate Holds Lead

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Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood candidate Pedro Pierluisi Wednesday was holding on to his narrow lead in the gubernatorial race as ballot counting continued and his chief rival refused to concede.

With 95% of polling stations reporting, Pierluisi had 381,015 votes, or 32.4% of the ballots, while Carlos Delgado Altieri had 368,602 votes, or 31.4%, according to the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections.

Wednesday evening, Delgado Altieri said he had called Pierluisi “to promote calm,” but that he was not conceding.

“The Popular Democratic Party is still actively counting votes, which could change results, including in the governor’s race,” he wrote on Twitter.

If their difference shrinks to less than half a percentage point, it would trigger an automatic recount.

This was the first time that Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents had a chance to choose their leadership since Governor Ricardo Rossello was ousted in 2019 amid corruption allegations and massive street protests.

For months, polls showed Pierluisi, with the incumbent New Progressive Party, or PNP, running neck-and-neck with Delgado Altieri of the Popular Democratic Party, or PPD. But Delgado Altieri, the mayor of Isabela, may have been handicapped by strong showings by third-party candidates.

Alexandra Lugaro with the Citizens’ Victory Movement and Juan Dalmau with the Puerto Rico Independence Party received 15% and 14% of the vote, respectively -- historic outcomes for both parties.

In addition, Manuel Natal, with the Citizens’ Victory Movement, was narrowly leading the San Juan mayor’s race -- a huge blow to the island’s two major parties that have dominated local politics.

If Pierluisi, 61, is declared the winner, he will enter the office with the lowest level of support of any governor in the territory’s history, according to local media. He will also have to work with a divided legislature.

Statehood Referendum

Also Tuesday, the island held a non-binding referendum on statehood. With 95% of polling stations reporting, those voting in favor of making the U.S. territory the 51st state were outstripping those opposed to it 52% to 48%.

Pierluisi was the island’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House from 2009 to 2017 and Secretary of Justice from 1993 to 1996. He was also -- very briefly -- governor. In August 2019, before resigning, Rossello named Pierluisi his No. 2, putting him next in line of succession. When the courts overturned his appointment days later, it paved the way for Wanda Vazquez, the current governor.

The island’s new leader will be forced to rescue an economy still recovering from the 2017 hurricane season, a historic bankruptcy, a rash of earthquakes and Covid-19. Early Wednesday, at his victory party, Pierluisi said that he would spend his first days in office fast-tracking reconstruction and repair work and overhauling public contracting to make it more transparent.

But he said the statehood vote gave him a clear mandate in Washington.

“The people have declared that we no longer want this status,” he said of the island, an unincorporated U.S. territory, that has no vote in the U.S. congress. “We want equality.”

Pierluisi will have a powerful ally in the statehood struggle. Jenniffer Gonzalez, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, the head of Puerto Rico’s Republican Party and a statehood advocate, easily won reelection as the island’s non-voting member of the House of Representatives.

Gonzalez is also a longtime supporter of Pierluisi, even though he’s a registered Democrat.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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