Outgoing Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello will name Pedro Pierluisi, the commonwealth’s former representative in U.S. Congress, as his successor, according to an island lawmaker.
Commonwealth House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Mendez told members that Rossello will nominate Pierluisi, Representative Jose “Quiquito” Melendez said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. The House is set to hold a special session at 1 p.m. Friday regarding the appointment of the island’s Secretary of State — next in the line of succession — according to a notice of the session.
Rossello is running out of time before he steps down Friday to name a candidate for the vacant secretary of state job who can win approval of both protesters and the island’s congress. Even though Rossello has apparently made his choice, the deal is not done: Melendez said he’s not certain whether Pierluisi’s nomination will pass the House. Pierluisi’s name is not on the notice for the chamber’s special session.
The bankrupt island is facing an unprecedented succession impasse since Rossello announced July 24 that he would step down. His decision followed massive demonstrations that started after the disclosure of leaked chats in which Rossello and aides mocked rivals and ordinary Puerto Ricans. There is no secretary of state since Luis Rivera Marin left due to his involvement in the chats. After that, the governorship would fall to Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, who has said she doesn’t want the job.
Michelle De La Cruz, a spokeswoman for the governor, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on a nomination.
Pierluisi, 60, is a private-practice lawyer with San Juan-based O’Neill & Borges LLC, which represents the island’s federal oversight board in Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy process. The firm’s website said he was on a leave of absence as of Tuesday. The law firm has billed the federal board at least $4,900 for time that Pierluisi specifically has spent on its cases, according to court documents.
From 2009 to 2017, Pierluisi was Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the U.S. House, known as resident commissioner, and prior to that, he served as Puerto Rico’s justice secretary under Governor Pedro Rossello, the outgoing governor’s father. He’s a member of the ruling New Progressive Party and in the House caucused with Democrats. Pierluisi lost to Rossello in the New Progressive Party’s gubernatorial primary in 2016.
As resident commissioner, he was one of the main proponents for the approval of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act of 2016, which gave Puerto Rico a path to bankruptcy court but also — controversially — installed a federal control some have called colonial overreach.
The leadership void threatens to delay Puerto Rico’s negotiations to restructure billions of dollars of debt and secure federal aid as the commonwealth recovers from 2017’s Hurricane Maria. U.S. lawmakers allocated about $42.5 billion in disaster aid, but Puerto Rico has received only about $13.6 billion, according to the federal government.
Puerto Rico’s business community wants the situation settled as soon as possible, said Jose Ledesma-Fuentes, president and board chairman of Puerto Rico’s Chamber of Commerce. Departments and agencies for economic development, housing and education need continuity, he said.
“For the benefit of the economy, we really need to know who’s going to be leading the transition efforts after he leaves,” he said. “We’re growing very frustrated with this delay.”