New York City and Puerto Rico have long had a uniquely close and mutually beneficial relationship. New York City for decades has been the place to start a life stateside while maintaining close ties to the island and relatives still living there. So much so, in fact, that New York City was for a long time home to the largest Puerto Rican population outside of the island.
This mighty group of New Yorkers has established communities that have shaped the culture of our entire city. They’ve shared the rich traditions of their music, art, and cuisine; contributed to the linguistic diversity that makes our city even stronger; and played a significant role in the political life of our city—to name just a few of the contributions that we happily celebrate every summer at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
And as our city and the Puerto Rican communities within it have grown, Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in it have seen benefits as well. From the offices of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (which closed with little explanation in 2017) to the halls of the Center for Puerto Rican studies at CUNY’s Hunter College, important academic and political work has been accomplished in our city with the goal of improving the lives of those in Puerto Rico. And in times of crisis, whether it’s gathering supplies, sharing our expertise, or welcoming people temporarily displaced by disasters, New York City has eagerly stepped in to support our Caribbean neighbors.
Shaun knows firsthand what supporting Puerto Rico looks like. As Housing Secretary he helped strengthen Puerto Rico’s public housing system, the second largest in the nation behind NYCHA. And following Hurricane Maria, Shaun was in Puerto Rico working with local leaders to address issues of recovery and long-term resilience.
All of this informs how Shaun Donovan plans to work with Puerto Rican communities in our city and on the island, to not just continue but expand the mutually beneficial relationships we’ve enjoyed. Here we outline a set of initial policies meant to properly support Puerto Rican New Yorkers, strengthen ties between our communities and our governments, foment a greater exchange of ideas and resources, and put us on a path toward more rich and resilient futures on both of our shores.
We are committing to the following policies and programs:
Improving coordination and communication
As mentioned previously, the New York City office of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration played a central role in supporting Puerto Ricans coming to our city as well as preserving relationships between the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York City and communities on the island. Since the office closed in 2017, Puerto Ricans on the mainland have only had the offices in Washington D.C. and Orlando available as resources.
With this in mind, the Donovan administration will partner with the Puerto Rican government and the federal government to reestablish the Office of Puerto Rican Affairs in New York City, and designate a team in City Hall to maintain regular communication with this office. Shaun, with his experience as a cabinet secretary in the Obama administration and his deep ties to the Biden-Harris administration, is uniquely positioned among mayoral candidates to bring about these changes quickly, and we welcome the support of other local and national leaders that have recently called for the office’s reopening.
Having the institutional machinery in place to support the City’s Puerto Rican population and maintain constant contact with the island will make it easier for both city officials and representatives from the island to coordinate across a variety of projects, including emergency preparedness, urban innovation, education, and cultural exchange.
Investing in resilience and emergency preparedness
Especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island’s power grid and economy, and forced 130,000 residents of the island to seek refuge elsewhere, building up the City’s capacity to help those forcefully displaced establish themselves will continue to be an essential task of the Mayor’s Office for years to come.
As part of Shaun’s Climate Corps, the Donovan administration will establish a Recovery and Resiliency Corps that draws expertise from local trades and unions to be mobilized by the city in moments of crisis, making faster and more targeted response possible. In addition to supporting resilience efforts in our city, the Climate Corps will be a critical partner with the island in rebuilding and shoring up its infrastructure to proactively prepare for climate change-related extreme weather events.
Shaun also has a long history of promoting resilience and sustainability principles through the built environment, hosting design competitions as New York City’s Housing Commissioner and as the head of the federal Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force that led to the creation of Via Verde—the most sustainable affordable housing in the city—and a number of Rebuild by Design projects that have made our entire region more resilient than before Hurricane Sandy. As the Donovan administration invests further in these improvements to the city’s built environment, we will look to actively share ideas with the Puerto Rican government and civil society, as well as learn from some of the investments in innovation being made on the island.
Promoting urban and economic innovation
New York has long been a leader in urban innovation, from transportation and urban design to new technologies and data analytics tools, and Puerto Rico is currently investing in expanding its innovation efforts, meaning that there will be ample opportunity for leaders on the island to learn from experts across the city’s government, think tanks, and businesses, and vice versa.
To that end, the Donovan Administration will establish an Innovation Partnership between the city’s and the island’s governments, including sharing of best practices and an annual forum to set goals and share priorities. The Innovation Partnership with Puerto Rico will also look beyond expanding current processes to identifying and building up innovative industries of the future.
As mentioned in Shaun’s Economic Development Platform, New York will look to become a global leader in health sciences and climate resilience, while in Puerto Rico there is ample opportunity to develop technical industries like cyber security, tech entrepreneurship, and health technology. Through an open and consistent exchange of ideas, New York City and Puerto Rico can develop similar industries in parallel and help the other catch up in fields where the other excels.
Encouraging educational and cultural exchange
The exchange of ideas that New York City and Puerto Rico have enjoyed for decades presents significant opportunities to support both of our educational systems as well as our efforts to promote cultural affairs.
In his Education Platform, Shaun highlights the importance of celebrating the city’s cultural and linguistic diversity, and leveraging it to help more New Yorkers become bilingual. With Spanish currently the most widely spoken non-English language in the city, there is immense value in attracting Puerto Rican college students and educators of all ages to our city to support our bilingual education efforts through short-term summer and school-term programs. New York City, at the same time, can help bolster education efforts on the island across a range of disciplines through cultural exchange and teaching fellowship programs.
And as part of his Arts & Culture Platform, Shaun highlights the value of cultural exchange, and commits to partnering with cities and countries across the globe to both attract artists and send our own. Few places have had as vast and visible a cultural impact on our city as Puerto Rico, and as we turn to the arts to help our city heal following this crisis, making this type of artistic and cultural influx easier will only make our city stronger. To that end, the City will support efforts to provide temporary workspace and housing to Puerto Rican artists, and will partner with the Puerto Rican governments to provide similar opportunities to New York-based artists.
The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has long been a point of social and political contention on the island, and Shaun believes that the Puerto Rican people deserve a space to voice their opinions and learn more about the costs and benefits of different status options—and for the results of any decisions coming out of these conversations to be respected by the federal government. In that spirit, Shaun is in support of Representatives Velazquez’s and Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to allow the Puerto Rican people to decide their own preferred relationship with the United States through an inclusive, democratic, education-centered and binding process.