When 33-year old lawyer Alexandra Lúgaro announced her candidacy for the Puerto Rican gubernatorial seat this week, she was hopeful about her future and that of Puerto Rico.
A lot can change, though, in 48 hours.
In a video released on Tuesday, Lúgaro contended that she represents a vital, viable alternative to the status quo because she rejects political party affiliations, proclaiming, “We’re in a toxic cycle, hostages of two parties that have carried us into the abyss in which we find ourselves today. I am the voice of the indignant pueblo, [speaking out against] the bad administration of so many governments that have provoked our current crisis.”
Her candidacy, she noted, would be marked by a different approach, one that begins with her wholesale rejection of the two-party system. Lúgaro will run without a party affiliation, and claims that she is the first candidate in Puerto Rican history to do so.
That doesn’t mean, however, that she doesn’t have ties to the existing political machine. In fact, Lúgaro, who also stated that her campaign will be based on openness and transparency, benefits directly from it. She is the executive director of América Aponte & Associates, a company founded by her mother, which currently holds $46 million in contracts with the island’s Department of Education.
She is also the executive director of the Metropolitan School, which likewise receives money from the Department of Education to run English classes. Lúgaro insists that the contracts were secured legitimately through the normal bidding process, and that neither she nor her family utilized any political connections or influence to win the contracts.
Social media under scrutiny
During that press conference, Lúgaro emphasized her commitment to transparency repeatedly, noting that opaque, under-the-table dealings were, in large part, responsible for the island’s current troubles; it is in a major debt crisis. Her actions, past and present, she said, would be able to withstand all scrutiny. But within the past two days, even she has been surprised by the challenges to such transparency.
After stating in a public forum that she voted for the current governor, Alejandro García Padilla, during the last election, the island’s electoral commission cast doubt on her claim, saying that she was an inactive voter and they had not found her signature to confirm that she voted in that election. Issues related to the cancelation of some government contracts were reported.
And, of course, both reporters and the general public began combing social networks to get a better sense of who Lúgaro is and what secrets she may be hiding, some even posting sexy photos that depicted a woman alleged to be Lúgaro: Look! Here she is stirring up drinks! Here she is, in a bikini, fishing! The photos, wrote one outlet, “aren’t very appropriate for the position [to which she aspires].” At least one of the photos was grabbed from Lúgaro’s own Instagram account.
Media also seized on Lúgaro’s platform, quickly circulating the idea that her primary interest is marijuana legalization. It was difficult to contest the claim, or elaborate on it, given that the website for her candidacy does not, to date, identify specifics of her gubernatorial agenda. It does, however, highlight her interests in education and in prison reform. She has also stated that she would push for legalization of gay marriage.
Lúgaro seemed taken aback by the rush to voting records and the Internet, as well as by the information these quick searchers turned up.
Taking to Facebook, she vented her frustration about the not so happy turn her first 48 hours as candidate had taken. On Wednesday around mid-day, she wrote: “It’s incredible how some [news] outlets do damage to someone who only wants to help. Tonight, I’ll take the time to write you and share how this experience has been up until now. I think it’s important for you to know the reality about how politics moves in this country. I’ll write you later.”
And she did write later, adding:
“I’m writing tonight to tell you about my experience of the past two days. Nonetheless, right now, I feel a great frustration and deception with my country and its processes. I voted in the last election in the Barbara Ann Roessler High School on Highway 199 in the municipality of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Today, the State Electoral Commission certified that that wasn’t the case. I’m informing you that the new Elector Law demands that I have to have voted in the past election in order to aspire to the 2016 candidacy. They are robbing me of the opportunity to aspire to political office in my country. According to multiple interviews, everyone had told me that the politics in our country are DIRTY. I COULDN’T EVEN HAVE IMAGINED that it would have gotten to this point. I demand that the State Electoral Commission show the list of signatures…. I’m warning the PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO that they are hostages of bipartisanism. THEY’RE NOT GOING TO LET GO OF THIS COUNTRY, THEY’RE NOT GOING TO LET US OUT OF THIS DISASTER BECAUSE THERE ARE TOO MANY INTERESTS AT PLAY. Tomorrow will be an extremely difficult day, but I WON’T GIVE UP. I BELIEVE IN MY COUNTRY, I BELIEVE IN OUR CAPACITY TO RISE UP, AND I REFUSE TO BELIEVE THAT MY FIGHT ENDS HERE….”
She closed with the hashtags #yoserétuvoz (#illbeyourvoice) and #déjameloami (#leaveittome).
An outsider disadvantage
Even if the State Electoral Commission’s bid to block Lúgaro’s candidacy is unsuccessful, the road to La Fortaleza, the official governor’s residence, will be an uphill battle for the lawyer. Lúgaro would be the first candidate to ever run without a party affiliation.
While third-party candidates, including University of Puerto Rico professor Rafael Bernabé, have run for the office in the past, none has run completely independent of a political party and outsider candidates don’t have a history of performing well in Puerto Rico.
Even recognized third-party candidates struggle to garner votes, as was the case of Bernabé in the 2012 election. Bernabé, who was affiliated with the Working People’s Party, registered less than 1 percent of the vote. Traditionally, the only candidates who attract double-digit percentages are those affiliated with the two primary political parties, the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party.
Several other people have announced their candidacies for the position, including the current governor, Alejandro García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, and Ricky Rosselló, who is the son of former governor Pedro Roselló, and who has been involved in a number of controversies, including some involving positions at the University of Puerto Rico. Despite widespread discontent with the existing political machine in Puerto Rico, it isn’t clear yet whether Lúgaro’s candidacy offers a viable alternative.
Four months ago, Lúgaro posted a photo on Instagram of a quote that may yet prove to be prescient: “Find what you love and let it kill you.” Whether she’ll hold up under the pressure of intense scrutiny is the candidate’s first challenge.