SOMOS El Futuro: Weekend In Review

At the 28th Annual SOMOS El Futuro Spring Conference in Albany, City & State TV conducted two livestream programs—one on Friday night and another on Saturday—interviewing dozens of elected officials, government leaders and advocates. The topics of conversation ranged from education funding, to the potential passage of the DREAM Act, criminal justice reform and the importance of the SOMOS conference. Below are some of the highlights of the two days of interviews. 

You can watch Friday's session here, hosted by Editor-at-large Gerson Borrero and Albany Reporter Ashley Hupfl.  

And Saturday's session here, hosted by Borrero, Hupfl and Executive Editor Michael Johnson. 

On Friday night, newly-elected chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party Assemblyman Marcos Crespo talked about his goals for the borough and his relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I’ve learned in this business, the business of politics, you earn respect by standing strong in your convictions. What really hurts is that we can go back 20 years from now and look at the rhetoric and look at the talking points of our champions in the past and it’s a lot like what we would still say today and that has to change. The governor, look, we disagree on a number of issues and I’ve shared that with him, he welcomed the Bronx delegation and I shared with him our two cents on a number of his initiatives … however, I’ve also applauded him when I think he’s right.”


Rose Rodriguez, who was appointed as the state’s chief diversity officer on Friday, talked about what areas she would first like to confront in her new role.

“We really have to look at ourselves first—the internal structure and how our process works and how we interact with each other and correlate with each other in terms of how we’re approaching the recruitment process. So, my focus will be on recruitment through how we actually do it in state government. And it’s no different from how he proceeded with the MWBE process that brought us to the success that we have today.”

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli spoke about the politics surrounding the budget process and his role in its development.

“One of the challenges I always say I have with my job is that folks don’t always understand why we’re set up the way we’re set up. We are deliberately not set up to be the policy, we’re not elected—I’m not elected—to make decisions. After the legislature and the governor has decided how to spend the money, our job is to then follow the money and then makes sure it’s being spent appropriately. But the kind of decisions that are being made now is how much money on which program and at the end of the day that’s why people elect their senators, their assemblyman and their governor. So we comment, but we don’t tell them what to do.”


Assemblyman Louis Sepulveda spoke about the benefits of the “Raise the Age” campaign to treat teenagers aged 16 and 17 as juveniles instead of adults in the criminal system.

“The governor has put his money where his mouth is and provided resources so that when these kids [16 and 17 year-olds] get into the system, they will probably get pushed more into family court rather than the criminal system and they will have opportunities to expunge their records and there will be resources available for these kids to go get an education, to get the services they need to prevent the kinds of actions that are getting our 16, 17 and 18 year-old kids incarcerated.”

City & State TV's Saturday livestream began with an interview with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who responded to reports that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is still leading the chamber even after he was forced to step down from his leadership position following his arrest on corruption charges.

“To me it’s the opinions and focus of the 105 members. As I’ve said, I’ve always tried to be a consensus builder. So in discussions with the governor on all issues, from ethics, to health to education, what’s the conscience of the conference? Outside opinions and—forgive me, the media—even the governor, it doesn’t matter. It’s a representative government. Of the 105, well 104 now, we really put forth a “family first” budget and that’s what we continue to negotiate from. Those opinions and who they think is behind the scenes is really irrelevant.”

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke about several topics including her desire for state lawmakers to invest settlement money into New York City Housing Authority repairs. 

"I believe the governor is committed to it. He put $25 million originally in his executive budget. I have spoken to him personally about it. We put it in our agenda. There are other voices, obviously Senator Klein and others, so thankfully I think we are at a point where—since 2007 we haven't seen any money in the state budget for NYCHA—that we are going to make in roads and it is looking like $200 million possibly, $100 million, obviously no where near enough of what we need but it is a big, big step forward from where we were before. So that is a victory. And that is where the constant organizing and constant mobalization in the consistency of the voice of New York City is one that helps us get some results." 

Mark-Viverito, who was born in Puerto Rico, also updated us on the situation in the Caño Martín Peña neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a poor area of the city that is constantly flooded because a nearby canal needs dredging that must be handle by the U.S. Enivornmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. Back in November, Mark-VIverito took many of her colleagues in government on a tour of the area and she has worked closely with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz to push for the necessary action from the federal government—teaming up with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to apply pressure. 

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also weighed in on the NYCHA situation when he sat down with Editor-at-large Gerson Borrero and Executive Editor Michael Johnson.  Unprompted, Stringer said his priority was to make sure there is more funding and better oversight at the embattled authority.  

"We are at a the tipping point in NYCHA, between the disrepair, the dysfunction, the fact that people in NYCHA are now suffering even though that housing was developed in LaGuardia's time as the aspirational housing. People started at the bottom, have an affordable roof over your head, and then you fight to make sure your community is built around NYCHA. We are not investing in NYCHA, federal and state government, so what I would say in this budget process is bring home money so we can begin fixing the New York City Housing Authority."

Also joining us was New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who was in town in part to push for more education funding, and more importantly to voice opposition to some of the education reform proposals put forth by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

"The attack on teachers is unwarranted. As opposed to focusing on scapegoating teachers, we should focus on poverty and income inequality. And in the end I think the governor should take a page from President Obama and focus on student debt, focus on tuition for CUNY students and SUNY students, focus on the need for public education. We need to fund infrastructure, because a lot of the kids here today, CUNY and SUNY students, they want the same things I wanted when I was their age. And that is affordable education, opportunities and a pathway to the middle class and that is critically important," James added. "When you open a school door, you close a prison door. And I am here today, someone who was born into welfare, seven sisters and brothers, some who made it and some who didn't, because of a teacher and because of CUNY. And that is why I will vigorously defend public education and my CUNY students and my SUNY students."