SAN JUAN – David Bernier, the gubernatorial candidate of Puerto Rico’s governing PPD party, conceded to his main opponent, PNP standard-bearer Ricardo Rossello, shortly after the polls closed on Tuesday.
Bernier told reporters that he telephoned Rossello to offer his congratulations.
Rossello, the 37-year-old son of former Gov. Pedro Rossello Gonzalez, won the PNP nomination by defeating the far more experienced Pedro Pierluisi in the primary.
A scientist who has never served in public office, Rossello made the quest for U.S. statehood the centerpiece of his campaign.
He says he sees statehood as crucial to resolving the heavily indebted and recession-racked island’s economic woes.
Statehood is the traditional PNP position, while the PPD wants to maintain Puerto Rico’s current political status as a U.S. commonwealth.
“We have fought a tough battle at a difficult moment for the history of the party and the island,” Bernier told hundreds of supporters after conceding.
Now “begins a process of transformation in which we must look toward the future if we want to be an alternative,” he said, adding that the unprecedentedly strong performance of independent candidates in the 2016 race “obliges the political institutions to transform themselves.”
Election authorities said Rossello won with 41.9 percent of the vote, compared with 39.07 percent for Bernier and 10.99 percent for independent hopeful Alexandra Lugaro.
As governor, Rossello will have to deal with the financial oversight board imposed by Congress on Puerto Rico after San Juan defaulted on a portion of its $72 billion in public debt.
The board effectively has veto power over Puerto Rico’s budget and fiscal policy.