Dozens of New York leaders gathered Friday in Puerto Rico at a legislative conference to discuss Latino issues and meet with candidates vying for top political positions in the largest U.S. city.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito were among the 500 people attending the Somos El Futuro conference, an annual retreat for New York City and state Democratic leaders in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan. A reception was held late Thursday for Mark-Viverito, one of several politicians seeking to become the next city council speaker.
Conference chairman and New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn said it was no coincidence that 122 elected officials and party powerbrokers were attending the event.
"Most of the people at the end of the day come to make the deals they think they can accomplish to get somewhere," he said. "That's the reason you see (Mayor-elect) de Blasio here. We can no longer continue to take our Hispanic vote for granted."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not attend, but de Blasio, the first Democrat to be elected mayor of New York City since 1989, spoke late Friday at the conference, indicating that diversity will be a priority as the new administration takes shape.
"We want to make sure that we have a government that looks like New York City, and that means a strong Latino representation," he said, stressing that it did not mean he was seeking a particular person as speaker and that it was too early for such conversations.
De Blasio also said that while he has mentioned two names in the search for a new police commissioner — Chief of Department Philip Banks and former commissioner Bill Bratton— nothing has been decided yet.
"That does not mean that's the end of the list," he said, adding that the vetting process has not begun and no interviews have taken place.
De Blasio also said he would reform stop-and-frisk policies amid concerns that minorities are unfairly targeted.
"There is no contradiction between keeping the city safe and respecting people's rights and civil liberties," he said.
Ortiz said he hopes the city reaches another milestone in January regarding the appointment of a new city council speaker.
"It should be someone of Hispanic descent," he said, noting that Hispanics represent 27 percent of New York City's population. "That will be another historic moment that we should not let pass by."
The conference also focused on social, political and economic issues, with Puerto Rico government officials seizing the opportunity to reassure people that the U.S. territory would not default on its debts amid concerns about its ongoing economic crisis.
The island is expected to soon enter its eighth year of recession as it faces $70 billion in public debt and a 13.9 percent unemployment rate, the highest compared with any U.S. state.
Eduardo Bhatia, president of the island's Senate, said the government is working hard to pay its debts.
"Puerto Rico has never been close to not paying its bonds," he said. "We have always honored the debt."