The minority leader in Puerto Rico's House of Representatives resigned Tuesday and dropped out of the race for mayor of the island's capital amid allegations of domestic violence, delivering a heavy blow to his party.
Hector Ferrer had been a member of the House for nearly 12 years. He also resigned as vice president and spokesman of the Popular Democratic Party, one of the island's two main parties.
Alejandro Garcia Padilla, the party's leader, accepted Ferrer's resignation, but accused the governing New Progressive Party of political motives in pursuing the case against Ferrer.
"Domestic violence and all kinds of gender violence, all kinds of aggression, is unacceptable," Garcia said, but he complained that "there has been a clear pattern of the government using its power to affect political opponents."
"These worrisome circumstances should be investigated until their last consequence," he said.
Ferrer was arrested Thursday after police said they received a call from his estranged wife alleging domestic violence at their home in a San Juan suburb. Police said there was evidence that Ferrer damaged the home and made crude statements to his wife in the presence of their 5-year-old son.
His attorney, Osvaldo Carlo, has said that the couple is separating and got into an argument but that there was no physical violence.
The island's justice department has referred the case to a special prosecutorial office in charge of investigating public officials to avoid possible political bias.
Gov. Luis Fortuno, leader of the New Progressive Party, denied local authorities pursued Ferrer because of political motivations, saying domestic violence should not be tolerated.
"It is deplorable that Senator Garcia Padilla has taken a week to address such a fundamental matter as is gender violence," he said.
Ferrer's departure is a big loss to his party, said political analyst and former House secretary Nestor Duprey, who described Ferrer as a smart political strategist known for his willingness to compromise.
"He was one of the most effective voices for the oversight of government," Duprey said. "He was a figure who earned a lot of respect from his adversaries."
Duprey said he expected Ferrer's resignation to unleash some of the most negative political campaigning in the island's recent history. Hours before Ferrer quit, someone posted dozens of flyers across San Juan showing the figure of a man trying to beat a woman and Ferrer's party logo above the drawing.
Ferrer's resignation provides ammunition for the New Progressive Party, whose pro-statehood leader, the governor, is seeking a second term in November.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz demanded Tuesday that Garcia resign, noting that another member of Garcia's party, longtime Barceloneta Mayor Sol Luis Fontanes, was recently arrested on federal bribery charges.
"The Popular Democratic team led by Garcia Padilla is truly embarrassing," Schatz said.
Garcia said the party acted in a timely and proper manner.
On Monday, Ferrer accused authorities of abusing their powers and pledged to file a letter against Fortuno detailing his allegations. Ferrer's estranged wife, Eliza Hernandez, has since lifted a restraining order imposed against him.
A legislative replacement for Ferrer has not yet been appointed and his party leaders will meet to choose a new candidate for San Juan mayor.