I had mixed feelings on my 10 minute taxi drive from the airport to the El San Juan hotel, because I had stayed there on my first honeymoon in 1963 — and was now returning to attend the ultimate networking event, the 2018 SOMOS Puerto Rico Conference.
Under the leadership of the powerful, well-liked and demonstratively joyful Bronx Democratic Leader and Assemblyman, the dynamic Marcos Crespo, it has become a “happening.” It was an opportunity for me to meet the powerful leaders and lobbyists to share our recent acquisition of media now serving all of New York City, Long Island and Westchester.
The event was also a time to give back to the devastated island. Our hometown airline, JetBlue, was there to continue their efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico, which was devastated just over a year ago by Hurricane Maria. The airline, based in Long Island City, donated $100,000 toward the relief effort under the guidance of Icema Gibbs, outreach executive.
Buses full of attendees were organized into a “SOMOS Day of Service,” spending time painting walls, banging nails and providing hands-on help. Montefiore Hospital sponsored the day.
Queens Assemblyman David Weprin brought members of IsraAid, a unique group born in Israel as a humanitarian organization that now circles the world helping cities devastated by natural disasters.
Although I didn’t leave San Juan, I saw many empty storefronts and boarded-up hotels as I drove 40 minutes to their stunning, majestic convention center.
During my stay, I was at the Waters Ocean Club, where I had a great chair massage to take away the weariness of my flight to San Juan.
During my trip down to Puerto Rico, I had sat next to our First Lady Chirlane McCray and Mayor Bill de Blasio. She has made an impact with her Thrive NY program to raise awareness of mental health needs. Her program is so successful she’s taking it on the road, where it is being copied by 185 cities in all 50 states. Time magazine named her one of the 50 Most Influential People in Healthcare in the country.
I spent my days and evenings at the El San Juan hotel, where most of the meetings and gatherings were held. The most fun were the poolside chats with dear friends Joyce and Frank Seddio, who held court to and a steady stream of New York City power brokers — including office holders, union leaders, lobbyists, nonprofit heads and public relations experts.
When I made my way through the El San Juan ballroom the first evening, I looked around at the joyous, packed crowd. No wonder their faces were all lit up; it was a day after the victorious “blue wave” of Democrats winning every major race in New York City.
It was great to see so many Brooklyn and Queens friends and be introduced to Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island leaders; our media company now extends to all five boroughs of the city.
The highlight, for me, of the four-day getaway was attending a shabbos dinner with Ronnie and David Weprin at the Chabad House of San Juan. Their leader is Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, who is the brother-in-law of my dear friend, Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of the Bay Terrace Chabad house.
The San Juan house of worship was completed a year before Hurricane Maria, and was a refuge for the Lubavitcher leader, his family and congregants, who had huddled in the attic as the 150 mph winds and stormy waters ran through their home and shul.
Rabbi Zarchi described his street flowing with 4-foot-high waters creating a roaring river flowing past them. Luckily his wife had been wise enough to open their garage door to allow the water and winds to pass through, so they suffered minimal damage to their home. But they both admit it was a terrifying experience!
About 70 of us shared shabbos dinner under the stars. They served a challah that is the best I’d ever eaten with a coffee cake crumb topping — to die for!
For dessert, the synagogue’s doors opened to a packed reception co-sponsored by the Met Council (Metropolitan Association for the Poor) and their CEO, David Greenfield, who presented an award to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Congresswoman Grace Meng for all their work on behalf of the island’s residents.
The “who’s who” of New York City political life celebrated each other. I got to talk to the Democratic District Leader, Barbara Jackson, of LeFrak City, where I’ve been publishing a newspaper for the residents. She has devoted her life to community service and the people in her community. It was a special moment as we sat together as the world of leaders passed through.
It was also my treat to meet the charismatic City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and catch up with the fabulous Congresswoman Meng, there with her husband and staff. She had just been appointed head of the House Appropriations Committee when the Democrats officially take control of the House in January. Hooray for her and for New York!
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza spoke at one of the workshops, and I got to meet him and his wife.
I’m glad I listened to my Long Island Press lifestyle editor and public relations aficionado Todd Shapiro and experienced the extraordinary SOMOS conference. It was great to “see and be seen.”
Looking forward to next year and more time at the pool and beach! San Juan is a picture perfect getaway!