BY TRONE DOWD
Several members of the New York City Council—including two from Southeast Queens—headed to Puerto Rico over the weekend to lend a helping hand to victims of the destruction left behind by Hurricane Maria.
Led by Council Speaker and Puerto Rico native Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Bronx), the governing body stayed at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in the capital city of San Juan. They assisted in bringing food and water to the rural areas of the disaster-torn country and lent a hand building homes, setting up water filters and more during their stay.
From Queens, Councilmen I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) took part in the effort.
The PRESS of Southeast Queens spoke with Richards and Miller about their experience in Puerto Rico. Both elected officials appeared to be enthused about their chance to help those in need, especially since they have known firsthand what it was like to face devastation in their own districts, which suffered following Hurricane Sandy.
“When people are in need or in crisis, it is a leader’s responsibility to respond,” Richards said. “During Hurricane Sandy, there were people all over the U.S. who responded, including the Puerto Rican community. They delivered goods, gave us an abundance of resources during our time of need, so we wanted to make sure that we paid the debt back to them.”
Miller, who has a personal connection to Puerto Rico, said that helping out on the Caribbean island was more than just a humanitarian trip for him.
“I have family in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I spent every summer here as a child, so I’m familiar with the island. This is not just a place that is near and dear to me. This effort was just right thing to do—to lead by example and help your brothers and sisters in need.”
Miller pointed out that Southeast Queens’ own experiences with flooding came in handy as local Queens experts were able to come on the trip and help restore some of the services that have gone down since the storm hit. The partnership between Southeast Queens and Puerto Rico stretches back two years, according to Miller, due to similar issues plaguing both communities.
Richards also pointed out some of the similarities.
“There are a lot of similar pockets of poverty in Puerto Rico with communities like the east of the Rockaways that are underserved,” Richards said. “These communities have historically missed out on the resources that are detrimental to them moving forward.”
Miller and Richards said that the lack of resources from the federal government was a problem that he knew too well after dealing with hurdles from FEMA following Hurricane Sandy. Miller said that the council intends to revisit Puerto Rico as soon as early 2018.
Reach reporter Trone Dowd via email at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 123.