New York lawmakers head to Puerto Rico each fall for a sun-kissed conference that is growing in influence and importance, and this year's conference was a chance for lawmakers to celebrate Bill de Blasio's victory in the mayor's race and begin the race for City Council speaker. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - Puerto Rico is a nice place to unwind after a grueling election. Just ask Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
"First of all, I want to recommend the notion of spending time outside to all New Yorkers, especially if you happen to be lucky enough to get to Puerto Rico," he said.
De Blasio flew to San Juan for some relaxation, and a bit of politics as well. He made an appearance at the annual conference of Hispanic elected officials known as Somos El Futuro, basking in the glow of his historic win.
The beachside gathering is held to promote issues of importance to Latinos, but politicians of all backgrounds are flocking to the event in growing numbers.
"The fact that every elected official is here and is coming means on the one hand that people understand the power of the Latino electorate, but also that they have to govern, even if they're not Latinos, that they have to serve the needs of the Latino community," said Democratic strategist Luis Miranda.
Elected officials that NY1 spoke with said that they paid for the trip on their own, but some said that using campaign funds, or even government money, was not uncommon.
There are seminars on substantial issues like charter schools, civil rights and health care, but the most significant discussions, at least politically, are happening at the bar, not in the big ballrooms.
At least one attendee, the highest-ranking Hispanic official in the city's Police Department, was not shy about the fact that he is angling for a job in the de Blasio administration. First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro wants to be police commissioner.
"I think I have the qualifications and the experience and the administrative ability and operational experience to handle the job, and I have the leadership qualities to serve the people of the city of New York in that capacity," Pineiro said.
Not surprisingly, some elected officials were defensive about their presence, insisting that work was their top priority, despite the tropical surroundings.
"Puerto Rico is lovely, but mostly, we've actually been hard at work, cooped up in the hotel," said City Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn. "I feel a little like it's a day an awful lot, a day I'd have back in Brooklyn, but with a much better screen saver."
In the end, not every politician made the trip. Organizers said that Governor Andrew Cuomo canceled at the last minute, although his aides insisted that he had never committed to coming.
"The governor not showing up to the conference, I do not see it as an insult to us," said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn.
Many observers speculated that the governor stayed away to avoid sharing the spotlight with de Blasio, the biggest star in Democratic politics right now in New York. At the start of the conference, reporters pressed everyone for information about his whereabouts.
"I'll be announcing a full de Blasio schedule tomorrow," said City Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer. "Now, as comptroller, I realize what this role is."
De Blasio's appearance generated the most excitement, but the biggest political story of the weekend was the race for City Council speaker. The candidates met with colleagues to make their case.
Melissa Mark-Viverito and Dan Garodnick are considered the front-runners, but the contest is far from over.
"This long weekend will be very important for each of them, and the other members who may still be out there, trying to gain a stronger foothold with the rest of the council members here," said City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez of Manhattan.
De Blasio, who is close to Mark-Viverito, may get involved, and the Democratic county leaders are expected to try and shape the outcome of the race as well.
"It's on everyone's mind. I think that's one of a number of issues that's being talked about down here. But I wouldn't suspect anything monumental comes out of this weekend," said Rep. Joe Crowley, whose district covers parts of Queens and the Bronx.
It is true that when it comes to the speaker's race, nothing seems to have been decided, but for the candidates, coming to Puerto Rico did mean a few days of monumental campaigning.