Hillary Clinton is swinging through Puerto Rico today, Friday Sept. 4.
Though there is nothing unusual about pandering for votes, there are some unique factors on the island this year:
CRISIS IN PUERTO RICO
The island needs immediate Chapter 9 bankruptcy relief in order to re-structure its $73 billion public debt. All of the major Democratic presidential candidates – not just Hillary – have voiced their support for this.
None of them, including Hillary, have done anything about it.
THE FLORIDA VOTE
Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island in record numbers, and nearly one million of them now live in Florida – a key battleground state, as proven in the 2000 presidential elections.
The Puerto Rican vote, in Florida alone, could be decisive in the 2016 election.
Hillary recently hired Matt Barreto and Gary Segura, the founders of Latino Decisions, to conduct polling and Latino outreach. The reason for this is simple: Latinos are the largest minority group in the US.
If Hillary can lock up the Latino and African-American vote, she wins the election.
THE BERNIE FACTOR
Sen. Bernie Sanders has drawn within 7 percentage points of Hillary, and is currently leading her in the latest New Hampshire polls.
With Sanders drawing large crowds – often over 20,000 – to his campaign appearances, Hillary needs to engineer some early symbolic “wins” with the Latino community.
A MUTUALLY CONVENIENT ENDORSEMENT
Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the New York City Council, endorsed Hillary on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
Two days later, on Sept. 4, Hillary is campaigning in Puerto Rico.
The following week, Viverito and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are also scheduled to tour the island – to “help resolve” the debt crisis, but actually to campaign for Hillary.
The timing of Viverito’s endorsement, and the choreographed visits to Puerto Rico, are intended to generate “the big mo,” a sense of Latino momentum for Hillary – before Bernie Sanders can connect with the Latino electorate. It also provides Hillary with a recurring mantra during her Puerto Rico campaign swing:
“I was just endorsed by City Council Speaker Viverito.”
Since Viverito is term-limited, and looking for a job in 2017, this works neatly for both of them.
POLITICS OVER POLICY
There is nothing unethical about endorsements and mutual back-scratching. That is the nature of politics. But there is a level of urgency in Puerto Rico, that exceeds the boundaries of “smart politics.”
The island needs debt re-structuring now in September 2015 – not a “promise” or a “pathway” that might happen two years from now, in 2017.
Additionally, since all the major Democratic candidates have espoused the same generic “support” for Chapter 9 relief, there was no basis for the Viverito endorsement – other than the personal advantages it offered to Viverito and Hillary Clinton.
If Hillary is serious about helping Puerto Rico, she should use her political influence to create debt relief now, not a vague promise of it two years from now.
A GROWING RUMOR
There is a growing rumor that the Democratic Party, and Hillary in particular, are trying to stuff Florida with angry Puerto Rican voters, who will vote “Democrat” in 2016.
In this cynical scenario, Hillary benefits from allowing conditions to worsen on the island – by not pushing for Chapter 9 debt relief, until after the November 2016 election.
If that is the case, then Melissa Mark-Viverito would be looking for a federal cabinet appointment, at the expense of everyone in Puerto Rico. Politics doesn’t get more sordid and selfish than that.
ONE MILLION PUERTO RICANS, AND ONE PRIMARY
The 1 million Puerto Ricans in Florida have a great deal of power – but only if they use it.
Here is how:
If Hillary gets Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection for Puerto Rico before the March 2016 primary, then Puerto Ricans should vote for Hillary.
If she doesn’t, they should vote for Bernie Sanders.
It’s that simple.
That is how you turn your vote into power.
Otherwise you lose it.