The highly anticipated SOMOS El Futuro political conference held in San Juan, Puerto Rico came to a close on Sunday, Nov 7. This year’s conference theme was “SOMOS La Recuperación” or “We Are The Recovery,” which served as a call to action and a reminder of the need to remain united after a natural disaster or the pandemic.
Once a year the island, whose political status as a U.S. territory is still up in the air, becomes a sort of playground for every level of New York’s finest government officials while they rub elbows, make “political deals” and legislative proposals, campaign for upcoming races, and sip coquito in all-white on the Isla Verde beach.
About 1,500 elected officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, Attorney General Letitia James, Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales, were in attendance.
“I have a headline for you…,” said Hochul at a daytime reception held by the Kings County Democratic Committee. “Governor of New York stops fighting with mayor of New York and instead, together we fight for New York.”
The gubernatorial race candidates had the largest draw, with everyone from Hochul to James to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (who reportedly has a fear of flying and didn’t attend) to U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, throwing their hat in the ring. DiNapoli held a reception off-conference which was paid for out of his campaign funds, so taxpayers did not cover any of the costs, clarified his office.
Nuevo Caribe’s Raul Reyes, who didn’t attend the conference because of medical appointments, said that another race to watch closely is who will replace Assembly member Robert Rodriguez in the 68th District in Harlem. Rodriguez was tapped by Hochul to be the next secretary of state of New York this past Thursday.
Thankfully, the five-day event isn’t solely about lobbying in the “political show” it’s often portrayed as, said former Assembly member and newly appointed SOMOS Inc. Chairman Francisco Diaz. Diaz said he’d worked on the conference for three months and was exhausted by the time it was over, but he felt the event was a huge success.
SOMOS Inc. is a nonpartisan nonprofit partnering with the New York State Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force to put on the conference. They also fundraise for Latino youth scholarships and civically engage the large Latino/Hispanic communities in New York and the Caribbean. The Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force was created in 1987 to better represent the growing population of Puerto Ricans in the city and state. By 1988, the first Somos Uno annual weekend conference was held in Albany, New York, before the name change, and a second conference was added on the island.
While there, many of the officials as well as labor union sponsors took part in cultural events and community service projects, in collaboration with PAYE and La Guoyco nonprofits, to build community centers in the Loíza municipality decimated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Once the emergency ends, said Diaz, there is no longer fixed aid or “real coordinated effort” from New York City/State and the island’s government to assist people on the ground.
“After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, it’s been undergoing a very serious economic crisis,” said Diaz. “What we do is identify community-based organizations trying to lift themselves up and this year we had two in Loíza that had agreed to take over those schools that were closed down and abandoned by the government to create community centers.”
Diaz said he hopes to change the “event planner” role SOMOS plays in the paradigm of the conference to focus more on the nonprofit’s agenda and the community’s needs. “Because it was designed 34 years ago, the collaboration created the platform for politicians to speak about whatever they wanted,” said Diaz. “It shouldn’t only be about politics.”
Reyes said that Puerto Rico doesn’t have proper representation in Congress leaving their privileges and rights, that are afforded to other states, to suffer. “The issue is both parties okay,” said Reyes, “they are the ones preventing Puerto Rico from becoming a state because they’re afraid that Puerto Rico will have five congressmen and two senators that’ll be the swing vote in any decision.”
City and State reported that a key part of the days-long conference is supposed to be the legislative workshops on public policy, but the task force hadn’t publicly release reports for years. Amsterdam News reached out to Assembly member Maritza Davila, who chairs the task force, but hasn’t gotten a response back yet on when this year’s reports will be available.
SOMOS and the taskforce are separated primarily so that no elected official has a role in the fundraising the nonprofit does.
Diaz said the “final numbers” weren’t available yet as far as how much was raised this year. SOMOS’ last executive director was fired last year, said Diaz, and finding proper documentation has been difficult. There is an upcoming audit of the organization’s paperwork to get the “real numbers” but in the past he estimates that the conference has raised over $800,000 annually. The money is put towards the conference and youth scholarships.
To avoid conflict of interests, the SOMOS conference hosts receptions, luncheons, breakfasts, networking events, and an end of the event ‘despedida’ farewell at the Vivo Beach Club on Saturday, but no official “parties.” That doesn’t mean private groups or various interested parties don’t host gatherings at surrounding hotels and restaurants around the conference to take advantage of all the officials being in one place, said Diaz.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America Corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w