Campaign Diary – Caribbean Edition
Traveling with Governor Cuomo is a unique experience. It moves very fast, without much time for breaks. That is particularly challenging when you are trying to produce for television, which is labor-intensive. But it’s also a fascinating window into what these politicians do, since we are basically embedded with the Governor and his staff for the roughly 12-hour adventure.
On Wednesday at about 5pm the call came in from Cuomo’s office that the trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was a go. This set off a scramble within NY1 to try and figure if we could go along. On top of that, we were asked to be the pool, which can be challenging. We ended up not booking tickets until Thursday morning, about 3 hours before our 1:50pm flight was supposed to leave JFK. We made it to the airport in time, although barely. I was joined by my photographer and technical whiz Davide Cannaviccio and Gerson Borrero from City and State. Gerson has been around New York politics for years. He’s very knowledgeable, knows everyone, and is always dialed in to what is going on.
When we landed in the Dominican Republic, Gerson had his friend Evan meet us at the airport to drive us to the hotel. I was in the backseat next to Davide and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who apparently also knew Evan ( Hey, everybody knows this guy! ). It was one of those situations where you take a look around and say, ‘Ok, this is not something I would have predicted in a million years. I am in the backseat of someone’s SUV driving through the nighttime streets of Santo Domingo and sitting next to Ydanis Rodriguez. Does it get any weirder?’
Once at the hotel, Davide and I filed an “on scene” report from our rooftop for NY1. It was very CNN of us. We then met Matt Wing from the campaign and bumped into Senators Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta, who were part of the delegation accompanying Cuomo.
The next morning Evan picked us up and drove us to the Presidential Palace, known as Palacio Nacional, where Cuomo was having a closed door meeting with Dominican President Danilo Medina. Davide shot some of the meeting and part of the tour Cuomo was given of the Palace. None of the leaders of the Dominican Republic actually live at the Presidential Palace anymore. The country’s previous dictators apparently haunt the place, so they opt not to stay there. I don’t know too much about Dominican history, but I did learn much about the infamous Rafael Trujillo from reading Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” To say Trujillo was a “bad dude” might be the understatement of the century.
Cuomo did a brief press conference with the delegation where he acknowledged the growing influence and voting power of the Dominican community in New York. After the presser we got into the motorcade and raced through the streets of Santo Domingo for the next event. I don’t wanna sound too much like a little kid, but speeding in the motorcade was kind of the coolest thing ever. Driving is definitely a contact sport on the island, and our car trips did not disappoint.
Cuomo then held a second meeting with Former President Leonel Fernandez and after that we were off to the airport where we hitched a ride aboard the Governor’s plane to Puerto Rico. In San Juan I met my NY1 Noticias colleague Juan Manuel Benitez, who is a fantastic person to work with on these trips. Cuomo retired to the guest house at the Puerto Rican Governor’s mansion, known as Fortaleza. There he had about an hour or so to watch a little TV and relax. Apparently, Andrew needed a little “Andrew time.” Hey, man…I get it.
Cuomo and Puerto Rico’s Governor Garcia Padilla then walked ( part of the way ) together from Fortaleza to the nearby San Juan Hotel, El Convento where their joint press conference would be held. Walking through the streets in Old San Juan is a political tradition that is appreciated and respected by Puerto Rican voters. Mayor David Dinkins did it in 1992. Cuomo and Padilla looked like they were about to burst into song…I bet it woulda been something like, “Most Happy Fella.”
While this was going on, I was sitting on the floor of El Convento doing a radio interview with the great Pat Kiernan of NY1 morning show fame for his afternoon radio show with Rita Cosby. See Erica Orden’s tweet. I was also having a mild heart attack because our equipment wasn’t cooperating as it should. Twitter was all a flutter with my choice of outfit during my NY1 hit. ( Pink shirt, sleeves rolled up. What can I say? On the trip I kinda turned into “Island Zack” )
After the press conference Cuomo and the Puerto Rican delegation headed to Fortaleza for a private reception. I wasn’t there, but I was told that a certain Governor did a smashing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” I don’t know what happened next, but if I were writing the definitive novel about the day long trip I’d say that after finishing his song Cuomo dropped the microphone and walked off the stage.
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