SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — State Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Letitia James was in full 2022 campaign mode during the five-day SOMOS political conference, appealing to a key group of New York voters: the Latino community.
“I need all of you — because in 2022, there’s gonna be fundamental change. 2022! We’ve gotta increase opportunities for Latinos,” shouted James while onstage Friday night during a farewell party for the powerful Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — who will retire from political office at the year’s end.
“2022! We’ve gotta talk about excluded workers. 2022! We gotta talk about taxi drivers. 2022! We gotta talk about all those who have been left out of the sunshine of opportunity,” she continued.
“2022! We’re throwing down the gauntlet and Letitia James will be your governor! Hands up!” she said, drawing cheers.
Insiders say increasing Latino representation in city and state government has been a key theme of the week — whether tied to the upcoming New York City Council Speaker’s race, the 2022 state attorney general’s race and gubernatorial match or specifically hiring individuals in government roles.
“That’s the real impact of this conference — bringing people together to pay attention to and speak to issues that affect Latinos,” said former state Assemblyman and ex-chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, Marcos Crespo, who listened to James at Diaz’s farewell party.
“It’s what many of us hope to hear from key leaders,” he added.
Diaz Jr. voiced the sentiment Thursday while making an early endorsement of Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez — the first Latino elected DA in New York — as he considers running for AG. Should he win, he’d become the first Latino elected to a statewide position.
“We have voted. We have organized. We have supported. We have raised money,” said Diaz Jr praising the impact Latinos have had on New York politics.
“We don’t want other people to support us Latinos, simply because we’re Latino…but when you talk about someone who checks every single box of what it means to carry out the work that Tish James has done, I think that Eric Gonzalez checks every single box.”
Former Democratic state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz — who represented Brooklyn’s 51st district for 26 years before losing during the 2020 primary — said it takes more than promises for a politician to capture a coalition of Spanish-speaking voters.
“The sound byte about ‘we’re gonna have more diversity and more Hispanics, and I’m gonna be the voice of the Hispanics,’ has been used for centuries, and Hispanic folks still don’t have real positions of power in place,” he told The Post from San Juan, noting there’s never been a Hispanic statewide elected official or mayor of New York City.
“Will you give them real opportunities in roles that go all across government?” he said, noting good jobs and educational opportunities are also key.
“The Hispanic voter is becoming more savvy about the candidates. They now are scrutinizing the candidates that are planning to run and their platform. Rather than saying, “‘I need you and want you.’ It’s about, ‘Let me show you what I’ve done for you, what my office has done,’” he added.
New York City mayor-elect Adams made a point to thank Hispanics throughout his time at SOMOS.
“Listen, let me say this: [to] SOMOS and to the amazing Spanish-speaking elections in the state of New York and some outside of that here in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. First of all, thank you,” he said during a culture and arts reception Friday.
“I want to start from that space, of how much I appreciate what the Spanish-speaking community did for me as I was running for the mayor of the city of New York.”
Adams traveled from San Juan to the Dominican Republic on Sunday, his first visit to the country in his official capacity as mayor-elect.
During the recent 2021 Democratic mayoral primary, 16.6 percent of votes were cast in election districts sitting in majority or plurality Latino census tracts according to an analysis of racial makeup of voting age citizens in the census tract containing the election district, done by John Mollenkopf, director of the CUNY Center for Urban Research and professor of political science and sociology at the CUNY graduate center.
Nineteen percent of Adams’ No. 1 votes received in the rank choice system came from those districts.
“[Adams] did better than average there and better than the other leading candidates,” Mollenkopf told The Post via email, noting Dianne Morales was a close second in those areas relative to her performance elsewhere.
“Given how close the primary was and how racially polarized the overall vote was, it is safe to say Adams would not have won the nomination without the degree of support he got from Latino neighborhoods – which was not lopsided in his favor, as was true in Black neighborhoods, but leaned in his direction, especially in Dominican neighborhoods,” he added.
Veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf noted NYC mayor-elect Eric Adams’ campaign style is a model to follow for James and Hochul.
“Look at the recent election of Eric Adams. They turned out a coalition,” he said of Spanish speakers.
“It’s an outerboro coalition of the working-class voters of New York City and that includes the Bronx, Southeast Queens and portions of Brooklyn…If nothing else, this campaign should be noted for his intensity on the street. He’ll be the model to follow.”
James highlighted her own track record at SOMOS, speaking Thursday beside Frank Miranda — the head of the Hispanic Federation, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on supporting Hispanic communities.
“Fighting for this island has been my cause,” she said, noting her recent support of a case to be argued before the US Supreme Court next week, United States v. Vaello-Madero, where plaintiffs seek equal access for Puerto Ricans seeking social safety net programs currently unavailable to them, but afforded to US citizens.
“My duty as a public servant…as public advocate, I came to Puerto Rico with a plan to help those displaced by Hurricane Maria. As the Attorney General…protecting Puerto Rico’s seniors and defending student loan borrowers.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul also made a point to highlight her own efforts — she talked about efforts to increase diversity in state government and traveled to a solar plant facility in Loíza outside of San Juan, with her newly nominated Secretary of State, Harlem Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez and Miranda, of the Hispanic Federation.
During a labor breakfast Saturday morning, she recalled stories about her family working side by side with Puerto Rican immigrants in a steel plant in upstate New York, near Buffalo.
“In that community, I also had the chance to meet many Puerto Ricans who found their way to the same jobs. We worked with them side by side, and I grew up in a social justice Catholic family. So when my mother saw that there were little children, little Puerto Rican children, whose parents were out in the fields, were working in the steel plant who didn’t have a clean, healthy environment, we started a day camp for them,” she said.
“As a young child, I was literally one of the instructors at this day camp for their Puerto Rican children. That’s how long my engagement with the community has gone,” she added.
Sheinkopf said so far Hochul has made “smart moves” by appointing people with diverse backgrounds to her administration.
“She appointed women, Latinos, South Asians — there’s all kinds of people in this administration — she promoted them, and not just for color. Which shows you always have to give the edge to the incumbent. She’s not going to be so easy to defeat.”
Mollenkopf said considering the entire slate of 2022 gubernatorial hopefuls is not yet solidified — Hochul and James are the only two who have officially declared, but outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who was just reelected, are considering their own bid.
“In the general election, [if] Hochul ends up with strong Black and Latino support from the primary, she has a strong shot at victory in the general election,” he said.
“If it ends up being a really racially divisive primary — i.e. many Black and Latino voters not supporting her — that would weaken her general election position. If Tish James ended up winning the primary, I think she would have a harder time winning the general election than Hochul, given the composition of the state-wide electorate. NYC has about half the votes in the statewide Democratic primary electorate, but only a third of the statewide general electorate,” he noted.