Gubernatorial election results not yet official, but Pierluisi and Vázquez are starting transition
By The Star Staff
Although there is no final certification stating he is the new governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi and Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced Thursday the start of the transition process that will allow Pierluisi to take office in January.
Besides the transition process, Vázquez said the conversations centered on stopping the spread of COVID-19 and the status of the plans the government must submit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) detailing the use of some $13 billion in FEMA funds that will be distributed between the Education Department and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
PREPA Restructuring Officer Fernando Padilla recently said the utility’s plan is expected to be delivered to FEMA by Dec. 7, or 12 days ahead of the Dec. 19 deadline.
“We already have had two preliminary certificates and he is 15,000 votes ahead [of Popular Democratic Party opponent Carlos Delgado Altieri],” Vázquez said. “So we wanted to start the process.”
Pierlusi, who was governor for four days before the Supreme Court ruled that he was in the position illegally, said the current situation is very different from the summer of 2019.
“The people spoke and I was the one who got the most votes,” he said.
The transition committees must be constituted four days after an election. Pierluisi said Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera will head his transition committee but he will appoint the rest of the committee later. Vázquez’s transition committee will be in the hands of Secretary of State Raúl Márquez Hernández. They also include Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority Executive Director Omar Marrero, Ports Authority Director Joel Pizá and Assistant La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Lillian Sánchez.
Asked about why they decided to hold a meeting without the State Elections Commission certificate, Pierluisi said “there is no time to lose.”
“I clearly prevailed, and that is not going to change when the count is completed,” he said.
More than 95 percent of the votes have been counted.
Pierluisi said that for him the most pressing issue is the status of the projects funded by federal Community Development Block Grant funds and FEMA funds because he wants to hasten them. Pierluisi has been critical of the slowness in the distribution of federal funds to complete infrastructure damaged by the 2017 hurricane season.
Education is another pressing issue because since March, all classes have been online.
“We know many students do not have access to the internet or do not have laptops and I am worried about that,” he said.
Vázquez said she believes that the Education Department has been working to have students go back to the schools in January. The agency also gave incentives for children to return to schools.
Pierluisi also said he will file legislation to declare a state of emergency to stop gender violence.
Questioned about remarks made by Delgado Altieri to the effect that he will not concede victory or accept defeat until the last vote is counted, Pierluisi said “[e]ach one acts as he believes he should.”
“I understand that you want to wait for the final certification to be current, but usually one does not wait for the final certification,” Pierluisi said. “He is reluctant to accept the inevitable.”
Pierluisi said that even if the Legislature is in the hands of the opposition party and appears reluctant to confirm his nominees, he nonetheless wants to evaluate all candidates for cabinet positions. Any current agency head that wishes to remain in the position will be evaluated along with other candidates.
“A Legislature controlled by the Popular Democratic Party will not stop me from bringing in talented new people,” he said.
Later in the day as the counting of votes continued, it was reported that Pierluisi’s New Progressive Party will be controlling the Senate.
“I hope we can work together in a divided government,” he said. “My style is diplomatic.”
Asked if he would appoint Vázquez as secretary of State, Pierluisi hesitated and noted that she has already reached the highest position in government. Vázquez said she needed a rest.
Regarding the changes in the island’s municipalities, Vázquez said she was surprised that voters voted out many mayors who worked very hard and performed well in their towns. She noted that Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez was the first to file her reconstruction plan.
The two said they did not speak about the vacancy on the Supreme Court, but Pierluisi said Vázquez has the authority to appoint a new justice until Dec. 31.
Both officials called for the resignation of Rep. Néstor Alonso from his current seat in the House, to which he was re-elected, after he was arrested Thursday on corruption charges. If he does not resign, the House should expel him, Pierluisi said.
Regarding the management of the results of the “Yes or No” statehood vote, Pierluisi said the government is supposed to submit a transition plan and that Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón is slated to submit statehood legislation in Congress.