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In San Juan, Bloomberg Promises Closer Ties


November 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001
THE NEW YORK TIMES . All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, P.R., Nov. 27 – He stopped short of calling Puerto Rico the sixth borough, but Mayor-elect Michael R. Bloomberg today proclaimed his commitment to working closely with its government to meet business and education goals on the island and in New York City, where almost 800,000 Puerto Ricans live.

"I will be on Jan. 1 the mayor of the city with the largest Puerto Rican population in the world," Mr. Bloomberg said after a formal meeting with Puerto Rico's governor, Sila M. Calderón. "I think you will see her in New York," Mr. Bloomberg said of Governor Calderón, adding that he planned to visit the island often. "You'll find a lot of collaboration between the two of us."

Puerto Rican New Yorkers played an important role in Mr. Bloomberg's mayoral campaign, in which he took slightly less than half of the Hispanic vote.

Mr. Bloomberg's aides said that Governor Calderón had invited the mayor-elect to San Juan; she said that Mr. Bloomberg had initiated the visit. Either way, his visit to the Dominican Republic on Monday and to Puerto Rico was the first all-business call on the two islands by a mayor-elect of New York City.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani took a vacation in Puerto Rico in 1993 after winning his mayoral bid, and later visited the island and the Dominican Republic when they were hammered by a hurricane in 1998. David N. Dinkins favored Puerto Rico for tennis, and other mayors in the last part of the 20th century visited the island.

But Mr. Bloomberg's agenda appears to be far broader than good- will building and vote-gathering. He said on several occasions while on both Caribbean islands that he planned numerous visits, that he would be sure to include Puerto Ricans and other members of minorities in his administration, that he planned to consult with the Puerto Rican government while forming policy that would affect Puerto Rican New Yorkers, and that he would collaborate on educational and other projects.

"There is going to be much more cooperation between these two governments that you have seen in the past," said Jerry Russo, a Bloomberg campaign spokesman.

These visits also underscore the important demographic shifts in New York City in the last decade, which left Hispanic voters in a position to sway elections.

"I was pleasantly surprised by his visit," Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president, said in a telephone interview. "He makes a large statement to communities that turned out for him in unprecedented numbers."

Ms. Calderón, whom Mr. Bloomberg has met several times, said she welcomed an invigorated relationship between New York and Puerto Rico. "In the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, you will have an ally, a collaborator and a friend," she told Mr. Bloomberg.

Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Calderón declined to say specifically how their two governments would collaborate, but an aide to Mr. Bloomberg said that the two would confer on policy decisions and perhaps form a teacher exchange program to close the language gap for bilingual students in both places. "Ceremony will not stand in the way of a continuous dialogue," he said.

Saying that the economy in Puerto Rico directly affected New York, Mr. Bloomberg also said that he would support the Puerto Rican government's proposal to the federal government to give tax incentives to businesses that set up shop on the island. "I certainly will do whatever I can to help," Mr. Bloomberg said, though he stopped short of saying that he would directly lobby federal officials on the issue.

Mr. Bloomberg, who will need the Bush administration's financial help in getting through the city's budget woes next year, has been careful in other instances to avoid promises to directly lobby the White House.

Mr. Bloomberg said today that improving education was among his main goals, after making streets safe and employing people, and said that he wanted to see how Puerto Rico achieved its educational goals. The governor took the mayor-elect to visit a school in Santurce, an area of San Juan. At that school, Escuela Bilingüe Padre Rufo, Mr. Bloomberg was met by a band playing traditional Puerto Rican music and danced a bit. This was not a good thing.

On issues talked about most on this island, Mr. Bloomberg hewed closely to safe opinions. He said that he believed that the United States should end firing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003 as planned but expressed support for the American military's presence on the island before that date. That was a slight departure from Ms. Calderón, who accepts the date offered by the Bush administration but would like to see the Navy leave the island earlier.

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