De Blasio and Hochul Bill Taxpayers for Puerto Rico ‘Somos’ Conference JauntNovember 9, 2021
Top New York state and city officials converged at this week’s Somos conference for the same blend of politicking and policy discussions on Latino priorities — but they differ on how they paid for their trips.
Most used campaign or personal funds — with the notable exceptions of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Kathy Hochul, who both spent government dollars to get themselves and entourage members to San Juan.
De Blasio, who has just 57 days left in office before term limits force him to vacate, is hinting at a run for governor. Hochul is already announced as a candidate in next year’s election for the state’s top post.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams and his cadre of roughly a half-dozen Brooklyn Borough Hall aides and campaign staffers each paid their own way, according to a spokesperson for the borough president’s office.
Adams made a number of public appearances on Friday, including at a Kings County Democratic Party reception at the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel.
“I paid my own way. I learned the best way to tell people to mind their business is to come out your pocket and cut your own check…. So my dollar, my dime and my time,” he told reporters just before his first event. “I have a public schedule and sometimes I’m just going to hang out on the beach, throw on my swimming trunks and hop in the water and just enjoy myself.”
Adams will be traveling to the Dominican Republic before returning to New York City, to keep a promise he made on the campaign trail to visit the country immediately after being elected mayor.
The Cost of Politics
State Attorney General Letitia James, who announced her intention to run for New York governor late last month, funded her travels with campaign dollars, according to a spokesperson.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who has said he will run for re-election in 2022, also used campaign funds to travel to San Juan, his office said.
City Comptroller-elect Brad Lander paid personally for his trip, but will be reimbursed out of privately raised transition dollars, according to a campaign spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Hochul and her government aides traveled to San Juan on taxpayers’ dime, according to her spokesperson. Hochul’s husband, Bill Hochul, a top executive at casino and concessions company Delaware North, paid for his own trip down to the island.
Hochul’s Friday reception in the grand ballroom of the San Juan Hotel, which focused on diversity in government, was paid for through her re-election campaign funds, according to her spokesperson.
“I want my administration to look like New York State. We just got started two months ago and I am so proud of the people who said yes to serve in my administration, who are from all walks of life, all parts of the state,” Hochul told the packed room.
“This administration, finally, has Black and brown people who are in places of power so they can be not just phenomenal public servants, but to send a message to all the children of their communities that they can do this as well,” she added.
Business ‘For the People’
Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president who was recently re-elected back into City Council, said she paid for her own trip — but wouldn’t comment on how others were handling it.
“Every penny is coming out of my own pocket,” said Brewer, who is among the Council members vying for the powerful role of speaker.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who is said to be mulling a run for state attorney general, used campaign funds to pay for his trip to Somos, according to a spokesperson.
De Blasio, who last week filed paperwork to potentially raise funds to run for a state office, used taxpayer money to not only fund his own trip to Somos but also that of his wife, Chirlane McCray, and six City Hall staffers, according to a spokesperson.
The mayor won’t say whether he’s running for governor in 2022, while repeating that he plans to continue in the role of public servant. “I’m ready to do more,” he has said.
But the mayor also noted that the race for governor is still a wide-open contest.
“Universally, elected officials, party officials, labor leaders are saying this is a really open dynamic for next year — very unclear, everchanging,” he told reporters when asked about garnering support for a potential run. “And a lot of people are saying they’re keeping their powder dry and they’re going to decide well down the line.”
De Blasio’s public schedule for Thursday and Friday showed him and his wife attending nine receptions connected to the conference, including gatherings hosted by Friends of Puerto Rico and New York State Association for Affordable Housing, as well as a number hosted by political groups.
He defended the use of taxpayer dollars by noting how much work he is doing on behalf of city residents.
“For us, we are non-stop doing work on issues — literally all the time. I had meetings since the moment I got here with people about issues and problems in their community, elected officials, labor leaders, civic leaders,” the mayor said.
“This is the place where you see the most people and get the most done of any place all year,” he added. “We get a lot of business done for the people here — it is the right thing to do.”
A City Hall spokesperson didn’t answer when asked for the total tab to taxpayers, but said that McCray met with the deputy mayor of San Juan as well as Councilmember Diana Ayala (D-Manhattan/The Bronx), member and former chair of the City Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addictions.
‘He Loves Puerto Rico’
Their son, Dante — who has been helping produce videos touting his dad’s accomplishments as mayor — also traveled to Puerto Rico but paid his own way, according to a City Hall spokesperson.
De Blasio said the Yale grad just wanted to experience the political conference knowing it was the last time his dad would attend in the role of mayor.
“He loves Puerto Rico,” the mayor said. “I think when someone’s 24 years old, just having lots of experiences is a thing.”
Last month, the city Department of Investigation released a report that detailed how taxpayers footed the nearly $320,000 bill for de Blasio’s NYPD security detail as he traveled the country while running for president in 2019. DOI called on the mayor to reimburse the city, but he has refused.
De Blasio had asked the city’s ethics watchdog before launching his White House bid whether taxpayers could pick up the tab — and got a big no for an answer.
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