By Shlomie Katash
New York’s most powerful lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists, and industries gathered in San Juan, Puerto Rico between Nov. 8 and Nov. 12 for an annual conference hosted by the state legislature’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force called Somos. Aimed to strengthen the bond between the island territory and New York, the gathering serves as an unofficial hotbed for political wheeling and dealing. This year proved no exception against the backdrop of recent electoral results and impending electoral decisions.
Somos offers attendees the chance to engage with various workshops co-hosted by lawmakers, leading experts, and local community members, while mingling with those at the top of the New York political food chain. The events include panels and information sessions on topics such as helping asylum seekers, applying harm reduction methods, and empowering LGBTQ+ homeless youth, according to the Somos website.
The day before the conference began was Election Day in New York City, allowing the visitors to absorb and discuss the results as the days progressed. Two outcomes were especially discussed among attendees: Bronx Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez’s shocking loss and Brooklyn Councilman Justin Brannan’s divisive victory.
The former led to reflection among Democratic leadership in the Bronx as it raised another red flag regarding the party’s strength in the borough. “There is a movement and Republicans are gaining more ground,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson to NY1, urging that Democrats must go back to the drawing board.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn Democrats expressed confusion and frustration with their leaders’ handling of Brannan’s race. Brannan, a sitting councilman who had to run in a different district due to last year’s redrawing of the maps, received little campaign support and even scathing criticism from the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
“I think there needs to be a significant change and accountability in the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” said Brooklyn’s Democratic Borough President Antonio Reynoso to NY1, adding that even the bluest parts of the city shouldn’t take races for granted.
Journalists from City & State reported that Hermelyn appeared in good spirits on Nov. 9, expecting to work and reconcile with Brannan, though Brannan expressed less optimism.
On Nov. 10, as The New York Times broke that the FBI seized electronic devices from Mayor Eric Adams as part of a federal investigation into potential illegal campaign finance conspiracies, conversations quickly turned to Adams’ future in the role, with many possible primary challengers being discussed.
Talks were especially prevalent with the mayor’s conspicuous absence. Adams claimed he preferred to stay in the city due to the poor optics of spending time in sunny San Juan while the city is facing potential budget cuts, though the organizers of Somos stated that he previously said he would be present.
While no push has coalesced around any candidates, hopeful challengers took the opportunity to build potential support among New York’s most powerful, with the goal being to present one unified challenger to Adams in 2025.
“These are smart people. They know a big field is a win for Adams,” said Ryan Adams, a political consultant who attended Somos, to City & State. “They have to convince each other behind closed doors how to present as a united front for everyone’s mutual success.”
In the evening of that same day, many gathered for one of the conference’s most popular events, Somos Shabbat, which was interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters. Those who were able to physically enter the hotel where the event was taking place chanted, “Genocide! Never again for anyone!” to resounding boos. The demonstration was organized by Jornada: Se Acabaron Las Promesas, an anticapitalist group advocating for Puerto Rican independence, according to City & State.
The hosts of the event criticized the protesters for bringing up the conflict at an event that was meant to celebrate unity between Jews and Hispanics and advance social services that helped all people regardless of their background. “If you look at the headline of this event […] it says nothing about Israel. It talks about unity,” said Daniel Rosenthal, one of the event’s main organizers to applause.
Somos wrapped up over the weekend of Nov. 11 and 12 with breakfasts, receptions, and parties as most returned home from Puerto Rico to begin preparing for a crucial 2024. New York is likely to once again be the center of the political world as Democrats and Republicans will battle for control of the House of Representatives.