New York lawmakers traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico Thursday in hopes of lending a helping hand as the island suffers through a devastating fiscal crisis. Zack Fink filed the following report.
At a rally of tens of thousands of demonstrators, both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke out clearly for the people of Puerto Rico, as the commonwealth struggles to pay back more than $70 billion in debt.
"We are here in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. Because what is happening here is wrong. It's unfair to the people of Puerto Rico. Three-point-five million of our fellow Americans are being left out in the cold," De Blasio said.
Only Congress had the power to authorize Puerto Rico to restructure is debt. And so far, despite a fiscal plan from President Barack Obama, the Republican-led Congress hasn't budged.
"We are getting to a point that is very dire where basic services that people take for granted may not be provided," said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Governor Cuomo came to the island two months ago to offer assistance to Puerto Rico on how it might be able to restructure its Medicaid program to save money.
On Thursday, he held a morning event with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and many other notable elected officials. But Mayor de Blasio was not present and he was asked why.
"I flew down this morning and this is the first formal event and I look forward to meeting with Governor Garcia after to work on all ways we can help the Puerto Rican people," De Blasio said.
Cuomo announced that New York State is opening its first permanent office in San Juan to promote tourism and trade. He also cut a ribbon for a new "Taste of New York" store in old San Juan to sell New York products including craft beer and other state goods.
"Why open the office now? A lot is going on in Puerto Rico. These are tough financial times. Why are you opening the office now? That is exactly why we are opening the office now. Because Puerto Rico is having a tough time," Cuomo said.
In the next several weeks, the governor plans on convening a summit in New York to duty what address the Puerto Rican Debt crisis. It's unclear if Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is in the middle of a bitter feud with Cuomo, will attend.